Professor Tom Duckett wears many hats within the University of Lincoln. Not only is he the Director of the AgriFoRwArdS CDT, he is also Director of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems, and Joint Director of Lincoln Agri-Robotics. As well as this he also teaches as a Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems and conducts research focused on perception systems for autonomous mobile robots that operate in unconstrained, dynamic environments.
Tom may have a full plate but he still makes sure he finds time to tend his allotment. He loves to explore how crops grow organically so is growing many different fruits, vegetables, companion plants and beneficial weeds, as well as making some lovely compost! Tom loves being outdoors and when he is not on his allotment, or working at the University, he can be found taking a stroll in the local Lincolnshire countryside. Unless the weather isn’t great, in which case he relaxes with his favourite programme, classic Doctor Who (his favourite monsters are the Cybermen, go figure!).
Because of this love for nature Tom is especially interesting in agri-food robotics because it provides such an opportunity to help redesign agri-food production systems to work in environmentally sustainable and wildlife-friendly ways. This is one of the things which inspired Tom to begin work on the AgriFoRwArdS CDT.
When the robotics research team at Lincoln decided they wanted to apply for an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training they reached out to the University of Cambridge and East Anglia and worked together to win the first CDT big for the University of Lincoln.
Here is what Tom has to say about the experience…
“A lot of hard work went into the bid, supported by the research offices at the partner universities, including numerous revisions and several practice interviews. Fortunately, the actual interview at the Kennington Oval cricket ground, together with Simon Pearson and Fumiya Iida, went really well – that was quite an experience… and the rest is history!”
Tom is passionate about supervising and mentoring early career researchers and this is why one of his favourite things about the CDT is working with the CDT students and a super team of people aiming to deliver a first-class training programme for the next generation of researchers and leaders in agri-food robotics. Tom says “It has been one of the highlights of my career to work with talented young researchers and to see their development from their first steps into research through to ‘scientific maturity’”. Tom very much looks forward to celebrating the first CDT MSc and PhD graduations at Lincoln Cathedral.
There are many areas of agri-food robotics which interest Tom, but these include; autonomy, sensing and perception, mapping and navigation, crop care, phenotyping, harvesting, interactions between crops, soil and water etc. Tom is particularly interested in looking to the future of agri-food production systems, beyond automation of existing operations, including permaculture and companion planting.
Before becoming an academic, achieving his PhD in the Artificial Intelligence Group at the University of Manchester and working at the Centre for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems at Orebro University in Sweden, Tom worked as a programmer, developing and supporting software solutions for the fresh food industry. So it seems, although Tom has broad areas of interest within Autonomous Systems, focus has continued to be on agri-food robotics.