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Vision, sensors to be applied to food industry

LINCOLN, England – By the year 2030, food demand will grow by 40 percent. By 2050, that number will jump to 70 percent. Food security, sustainability and waste control are serious considerations when it comes to planning efficient food production to meet those needs. A new research group at the University of Lincoln intends to help in the cause.

The Agri-Food Technology Research Group aims to develop new technological solutions for all stages of food production, including cultivation, harvest, processing and packaging. Sensory and vision systems to inspect food productssuch as field beans for the presence of pest and larval damage is just an example of what’s being developed. Other tasks include the creation of new multipurpose imaging technology to undertake quality inspection tasks in the food industry, automatic identification of potato blemishes, and improving the seal integrity of heat-sealed packaging.

Dr. Grzegorz Cielniak and professor Tom Duckett have begun a 12-month feasibility study funded by a £132,000 grant (about $220,000) from the Technology Strategy Board, a nondepartmental public body sponsored by the UK. The study will evaluate whether the group’s previous research can be applied to the food industry.

“In our previous research, we have developed new technologies such as sensory systems that enable robots to build 3-D maps of their environments and trainable vision systems for inspecting food products,” Duckett said. “This new research group is about bringing these cutting-edge technologies together and applying them to new areas of food production, especially through our links with the local and international agrifood industry. For instance, many of the sensing technologies that were developed originally for small-scale mobile robots as laboratory prototypes now have the potential to be applied in agricultural vehicles in the real world for improving food cultivation and harvesting.”

And it’s important work.

“Agriculture and food production is not only a major part of our local industry, it’s also vital to the health and happiness of people everywhere,” Duckett said. “As a young person growing up in Lincolnshire, I worked in various different jobs in fields and food factories where I learned that the human element of food production is also really important. This technology is not about replacing human workers, but about giving them new tools to help produce more and meet the challenges of feeding a growing population.”


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