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AgriFoRwArdS CDT Annual Conference 2022

On the 22nd and 23rd June the University of Lincoln hosted the 3rd annual AgriFoRwArdS CDT Conference. The annual conference is a key event in the CDT calendar, and this was the first time it was able to be held in person due to Covid-19.

The aim of the conference was to share research, ideas, experiences, innovation, and technology; with a focus for delegates to expand their knowledge, strengthen their practice and facilitate collaborations and pathways to impact. With around 90 delegates attending over the two days, this event was also one of the largest CDT social events of the year.

Day One: Sustainability and Autonomous Robots

The programme was packed and the event started promptly at 09:15. Prof Marc Hanheide was the chair for morning session which was themed around: Sustainability. Prof Fumiya Lida chaired the afternoon session which was themed: Autonomous Robotics.

From the start of the conference, CDT students’ from across the cohorts were on-hand to help guests and support the running of the day. On entry to the conference a full registration pack was available with students covering the welcome and registration desk.

A breakfast was provided for all delegates which proved very popular so a bit of cajoling was needed to get everyone to their seats onetime. Luckily, more food was on its way so this was very easy!

Day One Breakfast
Day one breakfast and the Isaac Newton Building (INB) filled up very quickly with delegates arriving from 08:30 onwards. It was already a warm day and many were happy to be inside with the air-con!

Prof Marc Hanheide opened the event with a introduction and welcome talk motivating the session and sharing the conference agenda. The morning sessions consisted of a keynote and two presentations, the keynote was by Dr Michelle Cain from Cranfield University and the presentations were by Prof Nick Hawes and Dr Fernando Auat of Oxford University and Herriot Watt University respectively.

Dr Cain’s keynote was particularly interesting as it motivated the need for agriculture and its current practices to change so that climate goals can be achieved. We had also been warned that Prof Hawes was an engaging presenter and this was certainly true! Prof Hawes took us from missions of robots used to monitor dense woodland to applications across the farm.

CDT cohort 3 student Nikolaos Tsagkopoulos said:

I found Dr Auat’s presentation inspiring especially where they had such good results in fruit detection in such a challenging environment as orchards.

Although, due to traffic some of the schedule had to be switched around, the overall flow of the morning session was fantastic. As an audience, all of the speakers were energetic and as lunch immediately followed it gave a chance for everyone to ask those follow up questions they may not have been brave enough to ask directly.

Nick Hawes Presentation
The train strikes tried to derail us, but the CDT and Conference Presenters managed to adapt, resulting in a great mix of in-person and virtual presentations. Left: Prof Nick Hawes, University of Oxford. Right: Dr Fernando Auat, Heriot Watt University.

During lunch, Cohort 3 students were given an opportunity to showcase their MSc project research posters, and discuss their research interests with the delegation. As these posters were directly adjacent to the buffet lunch they proved very popular and had a large amount of engagement!

CDT Poster Presentations
The MSc students also had the opportunity to disseminate their research, creating posters demonstrating their MSc Project Proposals. The posters where displayed in the Isaac Newton Building Atrium, where delegates networked during breaks. The MSc students were on hand to answer any questions delegates may have had about their research.

The afternoon session chaired by Prof Lida and consisted of an inspiring keynote speech by Dr Paul Miller who is a pioneer of precision spraying technologies that are now used across the globe. Dr Miller’s keynote was particularly resonating as several CDT students are completing their research in precision farming and associated applications.

CDT cohort 3 student Callum Lennox noted:

Learning from all of the other students and how they present their research has been fascinating. I really enjoyed Dr Miller’s keynote as it closely matches to my research and interests.

Following the keynote, Prof Lida introduced the second part of the afternoon session which was PhD progress presentations by first and second year CDT cohorts. Four presentations took place with with three from the University of Cambridge, given by of Jack Foster, Haihui Yan and William Rohde, and one from the University of East Anglia given by Mazvydas Gudelis.

Student engagement with the presentations, and the conference as a whole, was exceptional with many questions being asked throughout the event.

Following the presentations a panel discussion with Grey Churchill, Karoline Heiwolt and Bradley Hurst then took place. The panel discussion was focused around applications of robotics as well as thoughts on current research and future trends.

Professor Simon Pearson (Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agricultural Technology and CDT Co-Investigator) said:

The quality of the student presentations and the science is really impressive. They are exceptionally diverse and of exceptional quality.

Evening Gala

The evening social dinner was an event everyone was looking forward to. Not just due to the beautiful food and wonderful company, but also because it was taking place in the inspiring Riseholme Campus grounds on the edge of the glistening lake.

The dinner started with a drinks reception with our very own pianist gently welcoming us into the old Riseholme Hall. The weather through the day had been pretty warm so everyone was very happy to have these refreshments!

A lot of time had been spent making sure all the details were just right for the dinner and that was immediately noticeably when you took your drink as you were immediately greeted with a view from the old hall out onto the rear lake and garden which had been freshly cut to provide a pathways for evening walks around the grounds.

The evening social event was held at the wonderful University of Lincoln Riseholme Campus. The dinner was presented in the gala space with the backdrop as the old hall and sun setting over the lake.

For dinner there were around 70 delegates in attendance, with roughly 10 persons per table. The tables were each themed with robotics names, such as R2D2, which was great fun. This immediately broke the ice as everyone was keen to know what and where they were sitting. The menu provided an excellent variety of foods and everyone looked to be thoroughly enjoy themselves.

Due to a small clash on transport coach timetables (by the coach company), the social dinner had to wrap up by mid/late evening but this did not stop the more enthusiastic attendees heading off into town (after a good sing song on the coach back), and taking the party forwards until the very early hours of the next day.

Students and delegates mixing and enjoying the evening social event in with the backdrop of the Riseholme Hall and lake.

Day Two: Achievements in Agri-Robotics

The second day started a little earlier and was opened by Prof Richard Harvey. This session was scheduled to close by 12:30 to allow enough time for delegates to travel home. The morning was chaired by Dr Grzegorz Cielniak with the theme: Achievements in Agri-Robotics.

A keynote speech by Prof David Rose from Cranfield University started straight after the welcome and focused on responsible and ethical development of robotics but particularly the responsibility of deploying robotics in agriculture. The main point presented was around respecting and ensuring a collaborative implementation of these systems to benefit both the local population, community and its needs for today and future generations. This is not an easy path to tread and Prof Rose was excellent at giving insights into several challenges.

Prof David Rose of Cranfield University presenting responsible development of robots in agriculture and sharing his thoughts on responsible innovation and the choices we have for the use of digital tech in the farming sector.

Following this, four further PhD presentations were given by Grzegorz Sochacki, Elijah Almanzor and Haris Matsantonis each of University of Cambridge and followed by Harry Rogers of the University of East Anglia. Grzegorz presentation was particularly well received as only a few weeks prior his research had been a focus in the ness as a ‘robochef’ with articles in The Times, Routers, and BBC amongst others.

Elijah’s presentation was also very well received as he spoke about recent research in detecting ripeness of fruits (starting with Banana’s) and automating this process through a pick and place process. This received positive response from audience members who work within this process as it offered a route to achieve a task that is currently time consuming and performed with low accuracy. Although this work was at its very early stages the current results presented much promise.

Cohort 2 student Elijah Almanzor, presenting his work on the detection of fruit ripeness through the pick and placing process using specially designed grasping soft robotic gripper.

Once each of the presentations had been completed and questions taken, the final activity of the conference was held. this was a second student panel themed around the question of what it is like to be a PhD student and lessons that can be shared.

Roopika Ravikanna took the reins and led the session, expertly guiding questions across the panel consisting of Willow Mandil and Amie Owen and across the audience. This was a great conversation because it is very rare to have everyone (students, academics and partners) in the same room as well as such a breadth of experience within the audience.

Final student panel session of the conference with students answering questions form the audience of how their research is taking shape as well as turning the questions on the audience to learn from their expert advice.

The session was then closed by Prof Marc Hanheide with some prizes for Best Student Presentation, the Best MSc Poster, and Most Entertaining Presentation. These were voted for by the audience. Congratulations to all winners!

  • Best Student Presentation – Haihui Yan, AgriFoRwArdS Cohort 2 – 3D Printing Soft Robotic Grippers for Automated Strawberry Harvesting
  • Best MSc Poster – Garry Clawson, AgriFoRwArdS Cohort 3 – Applications of Distributed Ledger Technologies in Robotics
  • Most Entertaining Presentation – Prof Nick Hawes, University of Oxford – Mission Planning in the Wild: Towards Autonomous Robot Missions for Environmental Monitoring

What did students take from the event?

CDT cohort 3 student Garry Clawson said:

Having a ready made network was a huge part of the benefit of being able to attend this conference.  Sharing the experience first hand with current and potential industrial partners as well as future collaborators, academics and students alike, means that I can make really useful connections while sharing ideas for future research work. Additionally, having the opportunity to see others present and communicate their work really helps me understand how best to present my future research in an impactful way.

CDT cohort 1 student Roopika Ravikanna said:

As one of the first students in CDT Agriforwards, taking part in the annual conference and donning a variety of roles in the same felt like belonging to the hosting party of a family function. I found it a memorable couple of days in my CDT journey.

The CDT student cohort enjoying a final lunch on the lawn outside of the INB celebrating a great event before departing back home.

Thank you!

A huge thank you to April Walker and Kate Smith who have spent several months planning every detail of the conference so it went without a hitch. With large conference events being non existent for the last two years due to Covid-19, ensuring that catering, gazebos, entertainment, keynote speakers, and all the other wider logistics were in order made the first face to face AgriFoRwArdS CDT conference such a special and memorable event. You are both awesome as usual!

Do you want to get involved in the CDT?

If you are interested in learning more about what we do and if you share a passion for agriculture and technology then go to our AgriFoRwArdS CDT website to see more about our research, how you can be involved and how to apply to be a student in the program.

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