The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training: AgriFoRwArdS hosted its first ever Conference in Agri-Food Robotics, featuring presentations from academics and industry leaders.
This conference was exciting as it was the first event of its kind, where students, academics, and industry partners came together in the context of agri-food robotics to discuss the high-priority issues in this industry sector.Dr Fumiya Iida
The conference was hosted by the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, and chaired by Professor Tom Duckett from the University of Lincoln.
Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the format was changed from a physical to an online conference. Presenters and attendees embraced the virtual event which had originally been planned to coincide with the 2020 Cambridge Science Festival.
The online conference was an opportunity for those operating within the 'smart agriculture' market to hear from guest speakers, including academics, as well as industry leaders from both start-ups and established companies, on the use of agri-food robotics and the possibilities for the future.
There was also a public lecture which, as well as being on the AgriFoRwArdS Conference programme, had originally been billed as part of the 2020 Cambridge Science Festival. It was broadcast online and featured a discussion with Professor Roland Siegwart, from ETH Zurich, on innovative drones for environmental and agricultural monitoring.
There were 13 lectures in total, watched by 70 participants. The topics discussed included:
- Progress on autonomous vehicles from the machinery manufacturer’s perspective (Dr Thomas Engel from John Deere)
- Crop/weed discrimination for autonomous weeding robots (Dr Grzegorz Cielniak from the University of Lincoln)
- Robotics solutions for strawberry harvesting (Professor Marc Hanheide from the University of Lincoln)
- High-resolution biosensors and actuators for plant hormone biology (Dr Alexander Jones from the University of Cambridge)
- Thorvald - from research to commercial deployment (Halvard Grimstad from Saga Robotics)
- Important challenges in commercial (as opposed to academic) agri-robotics (Dr Duncan Robertson from Dogtooth Technologies)
- Investing in robotics and automation (Amelia Armour from Amadeus Capital Partners)
- Robots in the kitchen: from field to plate (Dr Antonio D’Ammaro from Beko)
- Can spectra be measured with a conventional camera (Professor Graham Finlayson from the University of East Anglia)
- What is feedback control and what it can do in agriculture (Dr Fulvio Forni from the University of Cambridge)
- Cambridge industry collaboration (Helen Francis from the University of Cambridge)
- Commercial development of agri-food technology including robotics and artificial intelligence (Chris Roberts from Cambridge Consultants).
Participant feedback from the conference, held on 19-20 March, was favourable, with special mention given to the variety of topics and speakers and the quality of their presentations.
Comments included: “It was brilliant to have more of an insight into current levels of automation within industry and also the research and development of new automation within academic environments.”
“Learning a lot about a sector totally new to me and seeing the connections to my sector.”
“Good balance between academia and commercial.”
Dr Fumiya Iida, Reader in Robotics, said: “This conference was exciting as it was the first event of its kind, where students, academics, and industry partners came together in the context of agri-food robotics to discuss the high-priority issues in this industry sector. We were delighted to attract attention from many participants. We found that we had an even greater variety of attendees as a result of moving this event online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of participants reflects the interests, urgency, and importance of this research area.”
PhD studentships available
Meanwhile, applications are invited for fully-funded four-year PhD studentships at the Department of Engineering in the world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Agri-Food Robotics. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Lincoln and the University of East Anglia, the Cambridge researchers will train the next generation of specialists in robotics and autonomous systems for application in the agri-tech sector. Apply by 30 April 2020.