The Department of Engineering at University of Cambridge is actively supporting GROW this year, as agri-tech applications are becoming an area of increasing interest for the group.
Helen Francis, Research Manager and Knowledge Transfer Facilitator comments:
“In order to meet the big challenges facing food production, a huge transformation will be needed in the agricultural industry and engineering is poised to play a major role.
“We are surrounded by forward-thinking companies and producers who are ready to engage in research activities. This provides a fantastic opportunity to translate current work and develop new engineering solutions for agri-tech.”
“However equally, there is also a lot that can be learnt from the world of agriculture, where organisations manage complex and efficient operations.
“Such collaborations can provide exposure to exciting new challenges. For example, areas such as precision agriculture, where crops are monitored on a sub field or even individual level, provide some interesting questions for engineers. How should we remotely monitor crops on this level – do we have sensors in the field or deploy a drone or robot to take measurements and capture images? When and how do we harvest the crop and how do we manage it and package it post-harvest to maximise shelf life? How do we factor in weather conditions? How do we use the information gathered to increase productivity and minimize intervention next year?”
Being part of Agri-Tech East was seen as important in facilitating these discussions.
“We are keen to engage with the agri-tech community and are active members of Agri-Tech East. As the gatekeeper for the Department of Engineering, I can be contacted by companies or organisations who would like to work with the Department on interesting problems in this space.
“Numerous research groups across the Department do work of relevance to this sector. From big data to vehicle design, robotics to asset management and sensors to supply chains, there is a wealth of knowledge within the Department that could have an impact farming and food production.
“As this is seen as a priority area there is also government funding for Agri-tech projects ranging from early stage research grants to funding for field trials to demonstrate commercial potential.”
The importance of basing a business idea on a solid foundation of practicality is also emphasised, with the Department working alongside Cambridge Enterprise to support University start-ups:
“The Department of Engineering has a very strong track record of spin-out companies, many of which were incubated within the Department, providing flexibility for the researchers to develop their invention alongside their academic career.
“RedBite Solutions is a good example of a successful spin-out organisation from the Department. The IoT software company provides simple and cost effective track and trace solutions, which are used in a range of high profile companies around the world. The solution is based on RFID technology and would be ideally suited to managing large networks of data-capture devices in fields, greenhouses and packing houses.”
Francis is encouraging researchers in the Engineering department to get involved in GROW. “I would be delighted to meet with students and postdocs within the Department who are considering applying for GROW to talk through their ideas provide advice on their application.”