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Department of Engineering

Agri-food robotics: addressing the challenges, opportunities and threats

Agri-food robotics: addressing the challenges, opportunities and threats

World-leading researchers in food sustainability challenges united at the AgriFood Robotics Workshop and Hackathon held at the Department of Engineering recently.

Automation and learning provides us with a chance to improve the efficiency of the agri-food sector’s processes, reduce waste and costs, and improve food quality and safety.

Dr Fumiya Iida

The two-day conference attracted speakers from both academia and industry for a discussion spanning the global ‘smart agriculture’ market, from the use of robotics in agriculture and selective harvesting projects, through to technologies for application, the challenges and opportunities of robotic food production, and the latest techniques in vision and learning.

A hackathon was held as part of the workshop and consisted of both a manipulation challenge which involved developing a robot to perform food preparation, and a separate challenge using vision and learning to identify produce, classify it by visual inspection and estimate its weight.

Poster presentations also provided an opportunity for delegates to gain a wider understanding of current research ranging from ‘robotically harvesting lettuce’ (presented by Simon Birrell and Dr Fumiya Iida, University of Cambridge) through to ‘variable stiffness grippers for agricultural purposes’ (presented by Daniel Cardin Catalan, University of Cambridge) and ‘swarm robots for weeds removal’ (presented by Simon Obute, University of Leeds).

The workshop was organised by PhD student Josie Hughes and Dr Fumiya Iida, Lecturer in Mechatronics, whose research interests include biologically inspired soft robotics, robotic manipulation and locomotion. The workshop was sponsored by G’s Growers Ltd. 

Dr Iida said: “Automation and learning provides us with a chance to improve the efficiency of the agri-food sector’s processes, reduce waste and costs, and improve food quality and safety. The challenges are vast: identification, picking, handling, classification and packaging – all of these are linked to vision, learning and manipulation. 

“This two-day conference and hackathon was an opportunity for academia and industry to address the current research challenges in this field, particularly with regards to the development of sustainable agriculture, and finding new ways of maintaining food security.”

For a full list of the academic and industrial speakers click here.

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