2023 has been a year full of exciting opportunities, remarkable research, and interesting activities. To celebrate the wonderful achievements of our students and supervisors, we look back at just a few of the highlights of the year.
The 3rd Cohort of AgriFoRwArdS Students graduate from the MSc Robotics and Autonomous Systems programme with flying colours!
The ceremony was held within the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral, and was followed by a celebration within the grounds of the historic Lincoln Castle.
The students all left Lincoln to begin their PhD research at their respective institutions the previous October, and so this was a lovely opportunity for them to come back together, celebrate their year of hard work, and share their PhD experiences so far.
You can read more about the graduation event, and the student’s experiences, on the Student Blog.
Also in January:
- Garry Clawson presented at the 2023 IEEE/SICE International Symposium on System Integrations (SII2023), the paper ‘Applications of Distributed Ledger Technologies in Robotics’ was published in the Conference proceedings.
- The Cohort 3 students were joined by the other AgriFoRwArdS students and staff during the quarterly progress meeting, where they provided an update on their first few months of PhD research and laid out their plans for the 3 years ahead.
- Vijja Wichitwechkarn’s paper was published in the Journal of Open Hardware. The paper titled ‘MACARONS: A Modular and Open-Sourced Automation System for Vertical Farming’ was co-authored with his MSc Supervisor Dr Charles Fox.
- Paul-David Zurcher co-authored a paper ‘Skill retention after desktop and head-mounted-display virtual reality training’, which was published in the journal ‘Experimental Results’.
The AgriFoRwArdS Students all travelled to Lincoln to take part in the week long AgriFoRwArdS Summer (or Spring in this case) School, at the Riseholme Campus. Alongside the days filled with exciting challenges, there were also opportunities for networking, at the Spring School Dinner and social bowling. The activities themselves were inspired by this year’s ICRA Conference Competition (PUB-R), which has been created by teams at the University of Lincoln and University of Cambridge.
The CDT’s Spring School was a platform to develop knowledge needed for the competition. With students working together to develop a ‘robot kitchen’.
Watch a video summary of the event below.
Also in February:
- Karoline Heiwolt took a trip to UC Davies in California USA to see their facilities, meet with fellow PhD students, and conduct research.
- Students heard from a variety of speakers in the AgriFoRwArdS Entrepreneurship Lecture Series. Adelina Chalmers, The Geek Whisperer, ran an interactive workshop for our students which covered the topic of ‘How to pitch your business in 3 minutes’. Then Dr Jessica Ocampos, co-founder and CEO of Camnexus, gave a talk titled, ‘An inclusive approach in innovation to address global challenges: Using human-centred design in remote co-development of IoT technology during pandemic times’.
- Bradley Hurst visited Jersey to collect data for his PhD research, read about his visit on the Student Blog.
- Dr Michal Mackiewicz gave a talk titled ‘From Fields to Seas: Computer Vision for Analysis of Orchard Surveys and Remote Electronic Monitoring of Fisheries’ as part of the AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series.
- Xumin Gao presented his poster ‘Automatic Aphid Counting Based on the Yellow Water Pan Trap Imagery and Deep Learning’ at the University of Lincoln Postgraduate Research Showcase 2023.
- Cohort 1, 2, and 3 students held a Q&A session for Cohort 4 students, which allowed the students to share their thoughts and experiences regarding the upcoming transition from MSc to PhD.
The AgriFoRwArdS Entrepreneurship lectures came to a close with two final sessions.
In early March, Dr. Maggie Wilkinson and Dr. Nathalie Muller from Cambridge Enterprise spoke to the AgriFoRwArdS community about commercialisation and intellectual property (IP). The talk really highlighted the importance of thinking about the information students are sharing, and demonstrated the reasoning behind potential reluctance to talk about research in detail in public forums.
The series concluded with an interactive workshop ‘How to communicate effectively with industry contacts’. Run by Katie Bardes, who runs her own consultancy and is an associate executive coach with the Academy of Executive Coaching, the workshop aimed to teach students about the communication skills used to gather information effectively from industry experts, and to set up a successful conversation.
Also in March:
- Garry Clawson presented ‘A Technology Readiness Level for Blockchain’ at the 38th ACM/SIGAPP Symposium on Applied Computing, the paper was subsequently published in the Conference Proceedings.
- Richard Leggett of the Earlham Institute gave a presentation titled ‘Towards in-field automated real-time analysis of biological samples using nanopore sequencing’ as part of the AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series.
- Roopika Ravikanna visited the University of Birmingham for a week to work with the School of Computer Science team there to investigate proactive multi-robot task allocation methods in agricultural environments.
- Garry Clawson attended a dinner for Whitworth Award winners at the House of Lords in London. You can read more about Garry’s experience on the Student Blog.
- Alex Elias visited the FPC Futures Event in Peterborough.
- Willow Mandil completed an internship at the Toshiba Cambridge Research Laboratory, focusing on reinforcement learning, manipulation, and language models.
The students visited the National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM), which is located at the University of Lincoln’s Holbeach Campus.
Students were met by CDT Co-Investigator and NCFM Deputy Director, Prof Mark Swainson, who gave them a tour of the facilities, including the Research and Development factory and the brand-new Centre of Excellence at the Holbeach Food Enterprise Zone.
The tour was followed by training covering topics including; food industry scale; opportunities for digitalisation; the future direction of food sector robotics; practical advice on working with the food manufacturing sector; and blending fundamental and applied research.
“It was a really insightful day which reminded me of all the reasons I applied for AgriFoRwArdS – a passion for the food industry, the need to push for decarbonisation in manufacturing, and being surrounded by equally passionate people“
Also in April:
- Richard Bowden from the University of Surrey gave a talk as part of the AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series. You can watch the talk, titled ‘Perception for Autonomous Vehicles and Robotics’, here.
- Callum Lennox’s paper ‘Localising Weeds Using a Prototype Weed Sprayer’ was published in the proceedings for the UKRAS22 Conference “Robotics for Unconstrained Environments”, which took place in August last year.
- Jack Foster took part in the University of Cambridge’s engineering event “Corpus Christi Engineering Masterclass”, giving a talk titled ‘Can AI’s Learn From Each Other?’.
Cohort 4 students were invited to attend Riseholme Campus to undertake their ‘Introduction to Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges’ training. These sessions provide an introduction to the role of current technologies in agriculture as well as hands on experience to help ground student research in real challenges and opportunities.
The sessions include;
- Weed identification, biology, and management by Simon Goodger
- Soils, their use and impact in the environment and how to manage them to ensure sustainable crop development by Iain Gould
- Fundamentals of crops (including; the biology of plants, classification, environmental benefits, and crop protection), the importance of crop rotation, and weed, pest and disease control by Oorbessy Gaju
Following classroom teaching students were then taken into the fields at Riseholme to apply what they have learnt.
Also in May:
- Belinda Clark from Agri-TechE concluded the 2022/23 AgriFoRwArdS Seminar Series with her talk ‘Agri-Tech for 21st Century Food Production and Land Management’ – you can watch the talk on YouTube here, https://youtu.be/vrrYVxzn9UI.
- Harry Rogers presented his poster ‘An Automated Agricultural Precision Sprayer Identification and Localisation Evaluation System’ at the UEA Postgraduate Showcase Day.
- James Bennett presented at the UEA Postgraduate Showcase Day, his poster was titled ‘Simplifying tone curves for image enhancement’. He won the runner up for the Best Poster award.
- Rachel Trimble presented ‘Can we use Machine Learning to Improve Control of Invasive Plant Diseases?’ at an Accelerate AI in Biological Science workshop.
- As well as taking part in the UEA annual Postgraduate Day (where he won the Best Poster award for his poster titled ‘Deep Learning for Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba) morphology analysis from high resolution image pairs’). Mazvydas Gudelis took part, and won third place, in the PyTorch Docathon 2023.
- Rachel Trimble gave a talk titled ‘Reinforcement Learning for Control of Invasive Plant Diseases’ at the University of Cambridge Plant Sciences Department Seminar.
- Xumin Gao wrote an article titled ‘Artificial intelligence and aphid counting: Automatically counting aphids using technology’ which was published in the Sugar Beet Review.
- Grzegorz Sochacki’s paper ‘Recognition of Human Chef’s Intentions for Incremental Learning of Cookbook by Robotic Salad Chef’ was published in IEE Access. Greg’s Primary Supervisor, Prof Fumiya Iida, and the Cambridge CDT Technician Narges Khadem Hosseini, also co-authored the paper.
- Cohort 3 Cambridge students from the Institute of Manufacturing presented at the 1st Year PhD Conference.
This year AgriFoRwArdS visited the biggest robotics conference in the world, the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), which was held in London. The CDT were involved in various aspects of the conference, from hosting one of the competitions, presenting, and taking part in competitions and workshops.
Staff from the University of Lincoln and University of Cambridge came together to host one of the exciting competition challenges featured at ICRA. Teams were invited to test the design and control of their robots in the Preparation and dish Up of an English Breakfast with Robots (PUB.R) competition. The competition showcased the latest advancements in food handling and preparation, by challenging traditional robotics domains, including navigation, manipulation, and scene understanding, but also proposing novel scientific challenges, such as robotic food tasting, communication, creativity, and art.
AgriFoRwArdS Students from the University of Cambridge entered the competition, an entry which they began working on during the AgriFoRwArdS Spring School.
Watch the competition in the video below:
Also in June:
- Bethan Moncur presented her poster ‘Using Value Stream Mapping to Integrate Multiple Perspectives in Manufacturing Process Innovation’ at the 2023 ISPIM Innovation Conference: Innovation and Circular Economy in Ljubljana, Slovenia. You can find out more about Bethan’s travels across Europe here.
- Haris Matsantonis gave a talk titled ‘The applications of Geometric Algebra in interpreting visual information for advanced computer vision technologies’ at the 13th International Conference on Clifford Algebras and their Applications in Mathematical Physics in Holon, Israel.
- Karoline Heiwolt presented her poster ‘Statistical shape representations for temporal registration of plant components in 3D’ at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2023, and her paper was published in the conference proceedings. You can watch her presentation here – https://youtu.be/j8MElsyryiQ.
- Andy Perrett’s paper ‘DeepVerge: Classification of Roadside Verge Biodiversity and Conservation Potential’ was published in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems.
- Will Rohde’s paper ‘Lettuce modelling for growth control in precision agriculture’ was published in European Journal of Control.
- Prabuddhi Wariyapperuma assisted with robotics demonstrations for the University of Lincoln’s stand at the Lincolnshire Show.
- Cambridge students visited Dyson Farming and met with their Industry Sponsor James Dyson.
- Cohort 3 students, Alex Elias and Samuel Carter, teamed up with other members of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) group, including CDT Director Prof Marc Hanheide, to take part in the UKRAS Robot Lab Live event. The Lincoln team focused their live demonstration on a ‘day out at the museum with robots’. You can watch the demonstration on YouTube, here. You can also read more about the event on the Student Blog.
AgriFoRwArdS students travelled to Norwich to convene at the University of East Anglia for the July 2023 Quarterly PhD Progress Meeting.
Students from the University of East Anglia, and the UEA CDT Team, hosted the event, which saw presentations from the other PhD students (from Cambridge and Lincoln).
The progress meeting is always a fantastic opportunity for students to practice their presentation skills in a safe and supportive environment, gaining valuable feedback and insight from their peers. This time in particular, as students were asked to present PechaKucha (a storytelling format in which a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each). Although challenging to embrace a new presenting style, it was a great chance for students to develop a new skill alongside their fellow students.
Also in July:
- Bethan Moncur presented ‘Augmented Reality to Reduce Cognitive Load in Operational Decision-Making’ at the 25th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her paper of the same name was published in the conference proceedings. You can find out more about Bethan’s travels across Europe here.
- Willow Mandil’s paper ‘Towards autonomous selective harvesting: A review of robot perception, robot design, motion planning and control’ was published in the Journal of Field Robotics.
- Alex Elias went with the University of Lincoln team to Bordeaux to compete in Robocup 2023. You can read more about Alex’s trip to France on the Student Blog.
Over the summer our Students went all over the world presenting at international conferences, and disseminating their research.
Cohort 3 Student Rachel Trimble travelled to Lyon in France to the 12th International Plant Pathology Conference (IPPC) Remote Sensing and Plant Disease Epidemiology Workshop. The workshop brought bring together scientists from the world of plant disease modelling and from the world of remote sensing to explore how the challenges and opportunities for combining the two fields to give better overall management of plant disease. As part of this workshop Rachel presented her talk ‘Integrating Reinforcement Learning and Epidemiological Models for Disease Control Optimisation with Limited Information’.
Cohort 2 Student Harry Rogers then flew half way around the world to New Zealand, where he was invited to present his research at the 19th International Conference on Automation Science and Engineering (IEEE CASE 2023). His talk was titled ‘An Agricultural Precision Sprayer Deposit Identification System’ and the related paper was published in the Conference proceedings.
Also in August:
- Willow Mandil’s paper ‘Tactile-Sensing Technologies: Trends, Challenges and Outlook in Agri-Food Manipulation’ was published in Sensors 2023.
- A panel of current students met with incoming students to discuss their experiences in the CDT at the ‘Welcome to our new cohort’ event, an online student-led activity by our existing students for the students joining AgriFoRwArdS in September.
- Elijah Almanzor’s paper ‘Static Shape Control of Soft Continuum Robots Using Deep Visual Inverse Kinematic Models’ was published in IEEE Transactions on Robotics.
The AgriFoRwArdS CDT travelled to Cambridge for the AgriFoRwArdS CDT Annual Conference. This year though, was a conference with a difference!
The 3-in-1 event brought together the three UK robotics conferences below, into one big fusion event, which attracted many and diverse delegates from various career stages, backgrounds, and robotics research specialisms.
- The Towards Autonomous Robotics Systems (TAROS) Conference
- The AgriFoRwArdS EPSRC CDT Annual Conference
- The Joint Robotics EPSRC CDT Annual Conference
The conference brought together so many people from across the UK and the wider world, giving the opportunity to gain new knowledge, share best practices, exchange ideas, and overall advance the state of the art of robotics and autonomous systems as one community. You can read the official press release here.
We are very pleased to be able to say that many of the CDT students and staff were successful in having their papers accepted for presentations (and therefore have also been published in the proceedings), and that two of our fabulous students won awards! Massive congratulations to them.
- Bradley Hurst – An assessment of self-supervised learning for data efficient potato instance segmentation
- Grzegorz Sochacki – Closed-Loop Robotic Cooking of Soups with Multi-modal Taste Feedback
- Haris Matsantonis – A Geometric Algebra Solution to the 3D Registration Problem, Haris’s paper won the Best Computation award.
- Harry Rogers – An Automated Precision Spraying Evaluation System
- Roopika Ravikanna – Smart Parking System Using Heuristic Optimization For Autonomous Transportation Robots In Agriculture, Roopika’s paper won the award for the best application
In addition to the peer reviewed and selected papers, our AgriFoRwArdS students all produced and presented posters demonstrating the work they are currently undertaking as part of the CDT.
Also in September:
- Our wonderful 4th Cohort of students completed their year of hard work by handing in their final MSc project dissertations.
- We welcomed our 5th Cohort of students to the AgriFoRwArdS CDT. – https://agriforwards-students.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2023/10/04/new-students-welcomed-with-breakfast/
- Cohort 4 started their PhD study – https://agriforwards-students.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2023/10/10/cambridge-welcomes-its-cohort-4-students/
October saw AgriFoRwArdS Students and Academics involved in demonstrating the state of the art agri-food robotics research currently being completed at Lincoln at some really important visits to the University of Lincoln Riseholme campus.
- The Defra Innovation, Productivity and Science Division
- UK Research and Innovation
- The Royal Agricultural Society of England
- The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science.
Cohort 3 Student Xumin Gao has been particularly heavily involved in many of these visits, demonstrating the robotics he has been working with at Riseholme as part of his PhD research.
Also in October:
- Willow Mandil co-authored a paper titled ‘Deep Functional Predictive Control for Strawberry Cluster Manipulation using Tactile Prediction’ which was presented by a fellow author at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2023) in Detroit, USA.
- Yi Zhang and her PhD Supervisor Fulvio Forni visited Hardwick and Cambourne Community Primary School with their ‘Foodly’ Robot to showcase their research and demonstrate the collaborative food factory robot’s capabilities.
- Cohort 5 students visited the University of Lincoln Riseholme Campus for the first part of their ‘Introduction to Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges’ training.
- James Bennett gave a talk and provided a robotic demonstration to sixth form students from City College Norwich, who visited the University of East Anglia.
- Jack Foster started a place on the Alan Turing Institute Enrichment Scheme. Jack is working from their lab in London a few days a week and collaborating with their researcher network for 9 months.
Our students attended the Croptec Show, an event which brings together people from across the agricultural industry to discuss current challenges and display the cutting edge in agricultural technology and innovation.
Students assisted the University of Lincoln on their stand, representing the AgriFoRwArdS CDT and discussing their work with the agricultural technology community. They then visited a the various stands, and speaking to exhibiters about their products/services and also the student’s own interests and project ideas.
A particular highlight for the students was meeting Kaleb Cooper from Clarkson’s Farm!
Also in November:
- Harry Rogers presented a talk titled ‘Evaluating the Use of Interpretable Quantized Convolutional Neural Networks for Resource-Constrained Deployment’ at the International Joint Conference on Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (KDIR) in Rome. He was awarded the Best Paper Award for his research.
- James Bennett presented ‘Simplifying Tone Curves for Image Enhancement Tone Curves for Image Enhancement’ at the 31st Color and Imaging Conference in Paris. He won a prize.
- Mazvydas Gudelis and Andy Perrett attended the British Machine Vision Association Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland. Mazvydas presented ‘Computer Vision Pipeline for Automated Antarctic Krill Analysis’.
- Prabuddhi Wariyapperuma presented her poster ‘Human detection and body posture recognition for human-robot collaborative applications’ at the 4th IEEE UK&I Young Professionals Postgraduate STEM Research Symposium in Newcastle.
- Jack Foster’s paper ‘Aiding Food Security and Sustainability Efforts Through Graph Neural Network-Based Consumer Food Ingredient Detection and Substitution’ was published in Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 18809 (2023).
- James Heselden’s paper ‘Heuristics and Rescheduling in Prioritised Multi-Robot Path Planning: A Literature Review’ was published in Machines 2023, 11(11), 1033.
- Students James Bennett and Yi Zhang represented the AgriFoRwArdS CDT at REAP 2023, assisting with pubic liaison on the university stands.
- Prof Simon Pearson and Dr Rob Lloyd (CDT Mechatronics Engineer) appeared on BBC Radio Lincolnshire with the universities newest recruit ‘Spot the Dog’.
- Prabuddhi Wariyapperuma demonstrated the various robotics projects ongoing at the University of Lincoln to potential students at the university’s open day.
Students had the opportunity to join Prof Gregory Sutton at the University of Lincoln for a training session focused on presentation skills. The session, titled ‘What Napoleon Bonaparte can teach you about giving a scientific presentation’ gave students the tricks and traps of presenting ones work, with a focus on the ubiquitous mistakes that are made by people as they start a scientific career.
Also in December:
- Kyle Fogarty’s paper ‘Neural Fields with Hard Constraints of Arbitrary Differential Order’ was published in the Proceedings of the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) 2023.
- Harry Rogers undertook a placement with his Industry Partner, Syngenta, focused on gathering data relevant to his thesis, which explores precision spraying evaluation.
- CDT staff and students got together to celebrate the festive season and the successful year!
We would like to thank all of our students for their continued hard work over the last year. The AgriFoRwArdS CDT are proud of each of you, and are looking forward to what you will do in 2024.
This year has been full of opportunity for our students, and we can’t wait to see what 2024 holds!