In the future, farming and food production will be transformed by efficient new robotic systems, and researchers at the University of Lincoln are at the forefront of this exciting research.
Through its National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) and Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), the University of Lincoln delivers research and development in collaboration with many industry partners from across the agri-food chain. Included among these partners are major global names such as Nestle, Tesco, Bakkavor, Bosch, Produce World Group and BOC.
With a number of projects funded by the UK Government, the aim is to enable innovation in these sectors to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability – from farm to fork.
Professor Simon Pearson
The food chain is worth £108 billion GVA to the UK economy. It employs 3.8 million people and it represents the UK’s largest manufacturing sector – bigger than the automotive and aerospace sectors combined – but it is currently experiencing a great deal of pressure. Innovation is absolutely key to easing this pressure and that is why our so much of our research aims to find radical new ways of performing familiar tasks. We know that robotics represents the next revolution in farming and food production, and we are proud to be at the leading edge of this exciting movement.
The Lincoln Institute of Agri-food Technology is currently developing a fleet of multi-purpose agricultural robots, modelled on the Mars Rover, to support farmers with a whole range of tasks. Thorvald – the first of these robots to be on the move – can be used as a light-weight robotic carrying platform, as a sensor platform to monitor crops and soils and, potentially, as a platform to manage crops and for precision weed control.
Thorvald was recently retrofitted with portable cosmic ray sensors as part of major project measuring intergalactic cosmic rays to provide farmers and agri-tech researchers with near real-time data on soil moisture levels.
The national Cosmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System (COSMOS-UK) project, which has sites across the UK, includes a network of monitoring stations which the University of Lincoln’s Riseholme Campus is now a key part of.
The cutting-edge meteorological and soil monitoring instruments supported by Thorvald measure high energy sub atomic particles known as ‘fast neutrons’, which are generated by cosmic rays when they enter the Earth's atmosphere from both inside and outside our own Milky Way Galaxy. The way the rays ‘bounce’ off the ground determines how much soil moisture there is, which is vital for farmers to properly regulate soil irrigation.
As well as Thorvald the field robot, Lincoln researchers are developing soft robotic grasping tools and manipulators for the handling of food, creating state-of-the-art 3D vision systems for use in the automated robotic harvesting of vegetables and in robotic weeding technologies, and working with external partners to create the first ‘robotic chef’ to work on large-scale food production.
APRIL the robotic chef, developed by OAL, is a pioneering robotics system which could dramatically change the way food is manufactured. It is a fully automated robotic system that can mix, load and cook ingredients in a manner similar to professional chefs yet on an industrial scale, by using modern cooking and material handling technologies. APRIL is designed to boost production and efficiency, while improving the quality of food produced.
Meet the Experts
Professor Simon Pearson,
Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology
Professor Simon Pearson, is a leading expert on a diverse range of agri-technology applications including robotic systems, automation, energy control and management, food safety systems, and novel crop development. Professor Pearson is Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology.
Mr Mark Swainson,
National Centre for Food Manufacturing
Mark Swainson has an extensive range of research interests including food industry quality, advanced food process technologies, robotics & automation, food supply chain efficiency, antimicrobial materials, and shelf life of foods. Mark is the Deputy Head of the National Centre for Food Manufacturing and the Lead for Higher Education and Research.