Happy New Year from the AgriFoRwArdS Team
AgriFoRwArdS would like to wish all members of our community a very happy New Year.
2023 brought us and our students many exciting successes, which you can read more about in our recent article '2023 – celebrating another year of AgriFoRwArdS'.
We are sure that 2024 will be just as, if not even more, productive and exciting!
Cohort 4 Start Their PhD Projects
In October 2023, our fourth cohort of amazing CDT students started their PhD study at their respective universities. Find out about the projects, their supervisors, and their industry partners below.
Calvin is studying his PhD (Towards Resilient Agricultural PNT: An Improved Open Keyframe Visual Inertial SLAM Sensor Fusion Model for a GNSS/RTK Localization-Based Agri-Robot in Shaded Environments) at the University of East Anglia, and in collaboration with CHC Tech Limited. His project, which is being supervised by Dr Edwin Ren, aims to address the limitations of GNSS RTK (Global Navigation Satellite System Real-Time Kinematic) in shaded or poorly lit environments by integrating and altering the OKVIS 2 SLAM algorithm, a state-of-the-art visual odometry system, with graph-based Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithms.
Yi is carrying out her PhD study at the University of Cambridge, under the primary supervision of Dr Fulvio Forni. The project, being carried out in collaboration with RT Corporation, is titled 'Data-driven autonomous robotic food handling' and will develop new reliable data-driven control algorithms for robotic manipulation. The project aims to develop adaptive impedance control through a path of increasing complexity, starting from basic energy-aware control algorithms to a reliable adaptive control framework. This will be paired with mechanical design and prototyping, with the goal of co-designing control algorithms and (compliant, tuneable) hardware.
Andy's PhD project, titled 'Multi-modal fusion for remote biodiversity surveys of linear green infrastructure' is being supported by Norfolk Country Council. Andy, who is studying his PhD at the University of Lincoln, aims to develop the means of automatically monitoring the biodiversity of habitats surrounding cultivated land, such as hedgerows, using computer vision techniques that incorporate information from several input sources including satellite, UAVs, and mobile robots. He is studying under the primary supervisor of Dr Petra Bosilj, with support from Dr James Brown.
Afsaneh's PhD project, titled 'Understanding and mitigating the problem of highlights in remote sensing with application to coastal surveying' aims to mitigate the sun's reflection in coastal areas' images in remote sensing data. Within the project, Afsaneh will address the problem of glare by developing advanced glare-tolerant processing algorithms that will greatly enhance computer vision capabilities. Afsaneh is studying at the University of East Anglia under the primary supervision of Prof Graham Finlayson, and in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS).
Jack is studying his PhD at the University of Cambridge. The project, titled 'Bioreactor arrays for analysis and control of food production using genetically modified microbes', aims to develop a feedback-controlled bioreactor array, which could be used to run parallel production and evolution experiments on GMMs to a) select optimised designs for function and functional lifetime and b) to run distributed production experiments where effects of contamination can be minimised through redundancy and continuous harvest of the produced goods. Jack is working with primary supervision from Dr Somenath Bakshi and is sponsored by Dyson Farming.
Prabuddhi is studying her PhD 'Human sensing methodology based on affordable sensors for human-aware navigation in agricultural scenarios' at the University of Lincoln, under the primary supervision of Dr Leonardo Guevara. The project is being carried out in collaboration with Berry Gardens, and aims to develop a human sensing methodology based on affordable sensors to make existing robots capable of safely interacting with people in agricultural scenarios.
Andrew's project, titled 'Designing Scalable Robotic Systems for Next-Generation Agriculture: A Technological Perspective', aims to contribute to sustainable, ethical and inclusive agricultural practices, ensuring food security in the face of climate challenges, by combining academic research with practical implementation. The project aims to tackle these issues by developing agricultural robots that are autonomous, affordable, scalable and built using advanced Industry 4.0 technologies including additive manufacturing / 3D printing. Andrew is studying at the University of East Anglia, under the primary supervision of Prof Richard Harvey.
James, who is studying at the University of Lincoln, is working with Dogtooth Technologies on his PhD project titled 'Robust Robotic Fleet Management for Warehouse Operations'. He is being supervised by Dr Gautham Das. The main aim of the project is to explore the development of robust task allocation and route planning algorithms for autonomous robotic fleets in warehouses. The project will build and utilise a simulated test environment based on an existing agri-food warehouse facility to identify new challenges and assess the severity of existing ones, then develop and evaluate fleet coordination strategies which meet the requirements of the scenario and tackle each of the challenges identified.
Students meet with farmers and food producers at REAP 2023
Colleagues and students from all three AgriFoRwArdS institutions attended Agri-TechE's flagship REAP Conference in October 2023. The engaging event provided a great opportunity for networking, and for demonstrating the work taking place within the sector.
The Conference proved to be a valuable platform for knowledge exchange, networking, and showcasing ground-breaking technologies. East Anglia student James Bennett and Cambridge student Yi Zhang flew the flag for AgriFoRwArdS at the University of Lincoln and Cambridge stands respectively. They had the opportunity to interact with many industrial partners and future PhD students. AgriFoRwArdS participation in the event not only facilitated engagement but also opened doors to potential collaborations and opportunities within the agri-tech sector.
Read more about the event on the Student Blog.
Elijah Almanzor presents at IROS 2023, in Detroit USA
In October last year, Cohort 2 AgriFoRwArdS Student Elijah Almanzor, who is currently in his third year of PhD study at the University of Cambridge, had the opportunity to present his research at the prestigious International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), in the USA.
His presentation was focused on his 'Transactions on Robotics' paper ‘Static Shape Control of Soft Continuum Robots using Deep Visual Inverse Kinematics Models’, which presents a novel image-based deep learning approach for closed-loop kinematic shape control of soft continuum robots. These soft continuum robots are highly flexible and adaptable, making them ideal for unstructured environments such as agriculture.
Read more about Elijah's experience of the conference on the Student Blog.
UEA Students internationally recognised
Congratulations to Cohort 2 Student Harry Rogers on winning the International Joint Conference on Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (KDIR) 2023 Best Paper award with the paper entitled 'Evaluating the Use of Interpretable Quantized Convolutional Neural Networks for Resource-Constrained Deployment'. Harry is doing some excellent research on precision spraying systems working with the industrial sponsor, Syngenta to evaluate precision spraying systems using advance Machine Learning methods. You can read more about Harry's time at the conference on the Student Blog.
Congratulations to Cohort 3 student James Bennett on winning the Robert W.G. Hunt Best Paper Award at the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T) 31st Colour and Imaging Conference in Paris, with his paper titled 'Simplifying Tone Curves for Image Enhancement'. James is working with Antobot on his PhD focused on measuring spectral light to classify ripeness and diagnose plant disease.
Students attend Croptec 2023
Students from the University of Lincoln attended the annual Croptec Conference in Warwickshire in October 2023. The event was a great opportunity for our students to speak to exhibitors, learn more about technology development in agriculture, and discuss their own research ideas with industrial partners.
Three of our students, Benjamin Horner, Catherine Merchant, and Robert Stevenson, also spent an afternoon assisting the University of Lincoln on their stand, representing the AgriFoRwArdS CDT and discussing their work with the agricultural technology community.
Read more about the student's visit to Croptec on the Student Blog.
Prabuddhi at IEEE STEM Research Symposium
Cohort 4 Student Prabuddhi Wariyapperuma recently attended the fourth edition of the IEEE UK & Ireland Young Professionals Postgraduate STEM Research Symposium at Northumbria University, Newcastle. This symposium serves as a unique platform for early-stage researchers not only from the UK and Ireland, but also from around the world to showcase their diverse research work and interact with audiences from various fields of expertise.
Prabuddhi had the opportunity to share her MSc research at the symposium, with her poster titled 'Human detection and body posture recognition for human-robot collaborative applications'. When asked about the event, Prabuddhi said:
my experience at this event was a day filled with learning, networking, and the recognition of outstanding contributions to the field.
Andy Perrett's attends BMVC 2023
Cohort 4 Lincoln Student Andy Perrett travelled to Aberdeen in November last year, for the five day 34th British Machine Vision Conference (BMVC). Keynote presenters included Meta's Maja Pantic, who's work focuses on vision-based detection and analysis of facial expressions and body gestures, and Georgia Gkiozari from Caltech, who spoke about 3D perception.
Andy also attend the Earth Observation and Environment Monitoring workshop at the National Subsea Centre with Mazvydas Gudelis, also of the AgriFoRwArdS CDT. At the workshop, Maz gave an excellent presentation about his work on the automated analysis of Antarctic Krill.
While the keynote speakers gave perhaps the stand out presentations, there were approximately 65 other presenters not including those in the workshops, 45 of whom I managed to hear and get an insight into their work. It was fascinating to see the diverse research that goes on under the general subject of machine vision and I came away with a lot of inspiration to carry my own study forward. I left with a list of papers I want to read which will be all the more interesting having seen and heard the people behind the work.
Upcoming events in 2024
Quarterly PhD Progress Meeting (24th January) - Those CDT Students who have just begun their PhD research will present their PhD work so far to other CDT Students and Staff. We will hear about their first few months of study, and what they have planned for the future of their projects.
AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Event (23rd to 25th January) - Following student feedback, we have reimagined the AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series this year. Instead of hosting an hour-long talk and student panel discussion each month, we will be organising two seminar series events during this academic year, which will last a full day or longer. The first of these events has been merged with the Lincoln Agri-Robotics (LAR) Mini Conference, an exciting 2.5 day event focused entirely on agri-food robotics, where students can expect engaging sessions, insightful discussions, and valuable networking opportunities.
Introduction to Agriculture; Opportunities and Challenges - Robotics at Riseholme (5th February) - The Introduction to Agriculture course covers an introduction to the role of current technologies in agriculture as well as helping to ground students' research in real challenges and opportunities. We hope this will give students a good overview of how technology can be used within agriculture, which may then inspire their MSc and PhD projects. The course is broken down into half day sessions, and this particular session will be with CDT Mechatronics Engineer Dr Rob Lloyd. The students will have the opportunity to discover the robotics currently being used at the University of Lincoln's Riseholme Campus, and consider how they may use those robotics in their research. Riseholme has fantastic facilities available for students (find out more about the campus here), including a working farm, a dedicated strawberry crop research site, and trial plots for teaching and research. Students will have the opportunity to really begin to understand the role robotics can play in a real-life agricultural setting.
Transitioning to your PhD (8th February) - This student-led session gives MSc students a brief look into the transition to PhD life at each of the three universities. The CDT is strongly focused on our students' wellbeing, and we know that the transition from MSc to PhD can be daunting, especially for those students moving to Cambridge or East Anglia. So, this event allows our students to share thoughts and experiences with each other and to support each other through this process. Students have found previous iterations of this activity incredibly useful, and it has helped allay concerns for students who are transitioning from MSc to PhD studies.
Manufacturing Technology Centre: Implementing Robotics into your Business (12th February) - Students will visit the Manufacturing Technology Centre for a tour of the facilities and training, which focuses on ways students may be able to use their robotics knowledge in developing their own business in the future.
Intellectual Property: What is it and why is it important? (5th March) - This online training session will introduce students to the various types of Intellectual Property (IP) that exist and show how to protect any IP generates, whether through PhD or in the wider world.
Visit to the National Centre for Food Manufacturing (22nd April) - Students will visit the National Centre for Food Manufacturing located at the University of Lincoln’s Holbeach Campus. The day involves a tour of the facilities and training focused on the UK’s food and drink industry, held at the new Centre for Excellence at the Holbeach Food Enterprise Zone.
Introduction to Agriculture; Opportunities and Challenges - Weeds (7th May) - The final session of the Introduction to Agriculture series will focus on weed identification, biology, and management by Simon Goodger.
Quarterly PhD Progress Meeting (16th & 17th May) - Students from Cohort 3 will update their peers on the progress of their research during this online event, and attendees will critically review the research being conducted. Primary Supervisors will also be in attendance. The event will be Chaired by Marc Hanheide, CDT Director.
Visit to Riseholme Farm (May - date TBC) - Students will be visiting the working farm at the beautiful University of Lincoln Riseholme Campus. They will be introduced to the initiatives that are taking place to help shape the farm, along with seeing how technology and the use of big data allows Riseholme Campus to improve welfare for the animals and run the farm.
AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Event (including visit to G's Growers & AgriFoRwArdS Progress Meeting) (June 2024 - date TBC) - This second AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Event will give students the opportunity to hear from leading experts within agri-robotics. Students will visit the G's Growers site in Cambridgeshire, take a tour of the facilities, and hear from people from various areas within the business. Students will then attend a whole-cohort social event in the evening and take part in the AgriFoRwArdS Progress Meeting the next day, at the University of Cambridge Engineering Department. Students from Cohort 2 will update their peers on the progress of their research, and attendees will critically review the research being conducted.
AgriFoRwArdS Summer School (7th to 13th July) - This year we will be travelling to Wageningen in the Netherlands for the annual summer school. You can find out more about this event below.
AgriFoRwArdS Annual Conference (date TBC) - This year the Annual Conference will be held the University of East Anglia in Norwich. More details will be disseminated as they become available.
The AgriFoRwArdS CDT always like to get together locally at the end of the year to wave goodbye to the year, and celebrate the next chapter that a new year brings.
This year, 20 Cambridge students and supervisors gathered for an informal dinner at Newnham College. It started with an informal reception and finished with a lovely dessert that had been wonderfully cooked and served by Newnham college catering staff. The AgriFoRwArdS team is very grateful to the college team for their help with organising the CDT Christmas gathering, and to Prof Forni, who is a fellow of Newnham and has been instrumental in providing the AgriFoRwArdS CDT members with an opportunity to enjoy his college hospitality.
The new year is an opportunity to celebrate exciting things that have happened over the last year. At the meal, Cambridge AgriFoRwArdS CDT congratulated the first student to finish their CDT studentship: Grzegorz Sochacki, who completed his study with the CDT at the end of December, will be submitting his PhD work shortly, and we wish him the best of luck with this. Grzegorz has been an exceptional student, and his research conducted in collaboration with Beko has aired on the BBC and published in the national press! We all wish Grzegorz the best in his future career as a Robotic Engineer.
The Lincoln team, students, and supervisors, all tucked in to a lovely lunch at Wildwood restaurant in Lincoln. It was a wonderful opportunity for catch ups, chats and sharing good news. It was especially wonderful to see so many of the new cohort of students at the event, and hear all about how their first months of study with the CDT have been going.
The East Anglia students and staff are really looking forward to their festive gathering too, which will be taking place on 1st February at a local restaurant! We cant wait to hear all about it.
The 2024 AgriFoRwArdS Summer School
The theme for our next AgriFoRwArdS CDT Summer School (taking place 7th to 13th July 2024) is robotic phenotyping. The event is co-organised with Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and will take place at their excellent facilities in the Netherlands.
We are planning a week-long set of group activities in which the CDT students will have the opportunity to undertake technical work on various aspects of robotic phenotyping together with crop science/biology PhD students from WUR. The potential tasks include in-field data acquisition from robotic platforms, hi-precision plant reconstruction and segmentation techniques, automated data annotation or techniques for trait extraction.
Students will have an opportunity to co-design the tasks to ensure engagement and direct ownership. The tasks will be aligned with the existing projects so that students efforts will have an immediate impact on research developments both at WUR and AgriFoRwArdS CDT. This will be an excellent opportunity to see world-class facilities, to work with the best specialists in the research area and to enhance student’s academic networks. It should be lots of fun too!
Dr John Dudley
Dr John Dudley is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, and Course Director for the MPhil in Machine Learning and Machine Intelligence (MLMI).
John's research focusses on the design of interactive systems that dynamically adapt to user needs and behaviours. He is particularly interested in the design of user interfaces for productive and enjoyable applications of virtual and augmented reality, with a special focus on supporting efficient text input. John's other research interests include human-computer interaction, machine learning, automation, and software development.
John completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor Per Ola Kristensson in 2019. Before starting his PhD, John worked as a Senior Automation Engineer at Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (Mining3), where he helped to develop autonomous mining equipment. Prior to this, John studied a MPhil at the University of Queensland, which examined the perception requirements for effective remote-control bulldozing. He also completed a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Melbourne and has a BA in Japanese.
Professor Elizabeth Sklar
Elizabeth Sklar, PhD, is Professor of Agri-Robotics and Research Director at the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT) at the University of Lincoln. She began her career in industry, working as a software engineering for over 10 years designing and building software systems, primarily at MIT/Lincoln Lab in the US. She then shifted into academia, holding academic staff positions at Columbia University (US, 2001-05) and the City University of New York (US, 2005-15). In 2013, she came to the UK as a US-UK Fulbright Scholar at King's College London and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool. She moved to King's College London (2015-20), where she was Professor of Robotics in the Department of Engineering and Head of the Centre for Robotics Research (CoRe) from 2017-19. Prof Sklar moved to the University of Lincoln in 2019.
Prof Sklar's research investigates the implementation of AI-based methods in the context of multi-robot teams, human-machine teaming, data-backed decision making and behaviour mining. Since joining LIAT in 2019, she has been exploring the application of these methodologies within the agri-food pipeline through the development of intelligent agri-food systems that incorporate autonomous robots and multi-agent systems for collaborative farming and food production.
Prof Sklar's work has been funded by the UK research councils (EPSRC, ESRC and MRC/BBSRC), Innovate UK, US National Science Foundation and a US-UK Fulbright fellowship. She has published over 200 papers in refereed venues and edited two books. She is a former Trustee of the RoboCup Federation, founder of RobotCupJunior, former member of the Board of Directors for the International Foundation for Autonomous Agents & MultiAgent Systems (IFAAMAS), former member of the editorial board for the Journal of Autonomous Agents & MultiAgent Systems (JAAMAS) and current editorial board member for Current Robotics Reports.
Elizabeth is currently Primary Supervisor for Cohort 2 AgriFoRwArdS Student Amie Owen, who is studying her PhD at the University of Lincoln. They are working with Campden BRI on exploration of intelligent multi-agent-based approaches to hygiene in the food manufacturing sector.
Harry Rogers and Syngenta collaborate
We asked Harry to tell us a little about the work he has been doing, and his experiences of collaborating so closely with a global leader in the industry.
During my PhD, I undertook an industry placement with Syngenta, which has proved to be a pivotal part of my research. This collaboration was primarily focused on gathering data relevant to my thesis, which explores precision spraying evaluation.
Working with Syngenta, I gained first-hand experience in applying methodologies to practical use cases. This experience was invaluable in understanding the complexities of real-world applications of my research. The data I collected during this time is crucial for my thesis.
Networking was another significant benefit of this collaboration. Interacting with professionals in the field, I expanded my understanding of the industry and established contacts that will be valuable for future research or career opportunities.
I also observed the importance of infrastructure in facilitating effective research and development. Access to Syngenta's advanced facilities and technologies highlighted how essential resources and proper infrastructure are in conducting high-level research and achieving tangible outcomes.
In summary, my industry placement with Syngenta was a highly productive part of my PhD journey. It has provided me with essential data, expanded my professional network, and underscored the importance of infrastructure in any type of research.
This is a great example of how much students can gain from working with the AgriFoRwArdS Industry Partners, and vice-versa! Thanks for sharing Harry.
Have you thought about joining the Institution of Agricultural Engineers?
The Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) is the only professional body for those working in engineering, science and technology in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, grounds care and other specialised land-based industries. Whether its tractors and combines or autonomous horticultural technology and soil science, the Institution covers it all, the common theme being the land.
As a professional Institution they organise a variety of content for their members, such as conferences, seminars, awards, podcasts, etc. They publish the Landwards journal for their members, a quarterly publication packed with articles covering many diverse areas, from student projects to ground breaking agri-tech. They also own and publish a leading international academic journal Biosystems Engineering.
They are licensed by both the Engineering Council and the Society for the Environment to award professional recognition, such as CEng. If you’re proud of your achievements, then why not get yourself registered, top employers expect it and fully support it, it will also help your career development.
They provide support for education and training in our sector such as recognition and accreditation of training courses, apprenticeships, degrees, etc. and advise on course content to ensure the learning material is right for industry.
At IAgrE pride ourselves in providing a personal tailored service to our members, with us you are very much a name not a number. We’re a close knit sector and being part of IAgrE is a great way of networking across many different businesses and sectors.
Established in 1938 and supported by major businesses and educational establishments, we continue to be a voice for our profession, with people development and professionalism as our prime focus. Whether you’re in academia, education, research or industry, we are the experienced professional home for engineers, scientists and technologists for the land-based industries.
Visit their website for more information, www.iagre.org.
University of Lincoln Wins Queen's Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education
The University of Lincoln have been recognised for their work supporting the success and sustainability of the UK’s food and farming industries through innovations in research, education and technology. The Queen's Anniversary Prizes are the highest national Honour awarded to UK colleges and universities – the equivalent of a damehood or knighthood at the personal level.
AgriFoRwArdS is proud to be part of the team! Congratulations to our fellow colleagues, and thank you for your dedication and hard work. A major accomplishment for Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology, LAR, AgriFoRwArdS and the University of Lincoln.
Read more about this exciting news here.
Agaricus Develop Robotic Mushroom Harvester
Agaricus Robotics is proud to announce the launch of an exciting research project that has the potential to revolutionise the agricultural industry by developing the world's first commercial mushroom harvesting robot.
This innovative project aims to provide game-changing productivity and is expected to increase yield and reduce food waste across mushroom farms. Automated harvesting removes critical labour constraints and reduces the costs of production. It expands the UK's capacity in advanced robotics, developing innovative digital technologies with global market opportunities.
Agaricus Robotics Ltd is leading the Agaricus Robotic Harvester project in collaboration with the University of Lincoln and Littleport Mushroom Farm, to ensure the successful implementation and impact of this project. Agaricus Robotics is a leading innovator in the field of agriculture technology. We are dedicated to developing solutions that improve the efficiency, sustainability, and profitability of farming, while ensuring that agriculture remains an environmentally responsible and resilient industry.
The Agaricus Robotic Harvester project is now underway and is funded by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ Farming Innovation Programme Automation and Robotics Competition, delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.
Public engagement and regular updates on the project's progress and findings will be made available through the Agaricus Robotics website and social media channels or you can contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DEFRA/UKRI viticulture project maps vineyards
A new project, funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme and UKRI’s Transforming Food Production Challenge, aims to create an open standard for digital maps of vineyards. The project is called Vineyard Information System for Technology and Automation, or ‘VISTA’. The project is led by a consortium of leading industry partners and researchers from various fields. The project will use JoJo’s Vineyard in Oxfordshire as a first test site to create digital maps of vineyards at the row and individual vine level.
The VISTA map will provide the digital backbone to process data collected by drone, robot and in-field sensors. The data will include information on climate and weather, crop health, soil moisture, fruit counts, and fruit quality. The VISTA map will also enable valuable decision-making support for vineyard production, such as precision spraying and pre-harvest yield estimation. The project will demonstrate the use of the map for these two applications in the second year of the project. The project hopes to show the benefits of a flexible, high resolution mapping standard for farms worldwide and explore more applications in the future.
Agri Opencore Robot Acceptance Survey
The University of Lincoln's Agri OpenCore project is looking for participants to take part in a short survey investigating robot acceptance in UK agriculture.
Your participation should take around 10 minutes and is completely voluntary. Participants must work in UK agriculture and be fluent in English. Ethics reference UoL 2023_15873. If you would like to take part, please click on the following link, https://unioflincoln.questionpro.eu/robotacceptanceukagri.
If you have any comments, information or news you wish to share with the AgriFoRwArdS community, please do get in touch - We'd love to hear from you.
The AgriFoRwArdS CDT Delivery Team - email@example.com
Visit us on the web at www.agriforwards-cdt.ac.uk and don’t forget to subscribe to the AgriFoRwArdS CDT YouTube channel, and follow us on LinkedIn.