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Workshop on the integration of Net Zero and Responsible Research and Innovation in designing Agri-Robotic technologies

AgriFoRwArdS CDT student Alex Elias attended the special session workshop identifying social and economic factors when designing robotics and autonomous systems. Alex shares his experience participating in this workshop and how it will support his future research.

On the 18th November I was invited to engage in a thorough discussion with other researchers about the significance of both social and economic factors that need to be considered when designing and developing agricultural robotics technologies at a Lincoln Agri-Robotics (LAR) workshop that was held on November 18th at Lincoln’s Riseholme campus.

Non exhaustive overview of aspects of robotic and autonomous systems that require Net Zero considerations.
Non exhaustive overview of aspects of robotic and autonomous systems that require Net Zero considerations.

Dr Carolina Camacho Villa, senior lecturer in Social and Managerial Technology, and Martin de la Harpe, Director of De la Harp & Co specialising in sustainability organised and led the workshop.

The workshop’s purpose was to create a shared understanding among attendees of the implications of net zero agri-robotics and responsible research and innovation when designing and developing agricultural robotics technologies, considering conceptual, methodological, and implementation considerations. These types of workshops enable early researchers like me to consider external factors that can be frequently disregarded during a system design phase but are essential for the implementation of robotic solutions in the real world.

The University of Lincoln’s reasoning for integrating social and environmental considerations formed several commitments that have been made in the aim to achieve Net Zero, identifying that if they’re not part of the solution, then they’re only adding to the problem. They outline these responsibilities in supporting the transition to Net Zero are:

  • Reduce carbon emission by 60% by 2030
  • Achieve Net Zero by 2040
  • Support the City of Lincoln to achieve Net Zero by 2030 (per capita emissions)
  • Support external organisations in their journey to Net Zero:
    • RAF Waddington
    • Lincoln City Football Club

The University of Lincoln also commits to Responsible Research and Innovation:

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Code of practice for research to enable Responsible Research and Innovation to support Net Zero targets.

Once we had established the University’s stance on RRI and Net Zero we started the conversation about integrating these aspects in the designing of robotic technology:

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Concepts required to support integration of RRI and Net Zero in robotic technology.

Integrating these factors earlier in the research design process by involving stakeholders will undoubtedly save time and smooth the transition from idea to solution, right? This was probably the most controversial aspect of the workshop. Some attendees stated that there is no point thinking about integrating these factors until the technology is working and there is a product to then start addressing Net Zero and RRI because the more time spent on being cautious and making sure stakeholders are happy, the less time for the researchers to achieve a working solution. Others in attendance seemed to agree that, while involving stakeholders in the co-creation of the robotic solution may lengthen the design and development phase, it would be a more conscious approach and a better way to understand the needs of stakeholders and the project scope in overall. There seemed to be no right or wrong answer as long as they are considered at some point as it is a lot more interconnected than it first appears.

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Connections between Technical, Social and Environment and associated inputs and outputs.

The reason I attended this workshop was to help me with my PhD while it is in it design phase, as my PhD title is “Co-creation & trust to address regulatory, ethical and interactional challenges in digital farming”, I will undoubtedly be considering social and ecological factors at some point. By attending this workshop, it made me understand the importance of these external factors when it comes to robotic technologies and allowed me to hear other researchers’ thoughts on the same concerns that I have about incorporating stakeholders more in the design and development phases of research.

I was also able to have an informal conversation with both Martin and Caroline about my research interests and the direction in which wanted to take my PhD. This started an interesting conversation on a project that they had both just been working on called “Gatsby” and they informed me it would have been useful to have some conversations with someone focussing on HRI whilst they were working on the project, this led to the exchange of details. So not only did I benefit from the actual workshop but by just turning up a little bit earlier I was able to further my connections by not just turning up but by maximising the engagement while I was there. I cannot recommend enough that when you go to these workshop/ events that you make the most of your whole time at them as you never know who you are going to meet and who has similar interest as you which could become vital later on down the line of your own research.

I would like to thank the organisation team for the opportunity to attend this workshop and I hope what I have taken away will help with the rest of my PhD journey.

A huge thank you to Alex for creating this article for the rest of the CDT student cohort to learn from. If anyone would like to find out more about Alex’s research please view his profile or contact Alex on 25916506@students.lincoln.ac.uk.

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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