This is a UK Government Research Council funded initiative to support robotics or agri-food sector businesses in their advancement of robotics-related projects benefitting the UK agri-food industry. The initiative is aimed at solving particular technology challenges and thereby securing sector advancement. The opportunity is for your organisation to engage in a PhD studentship focused on your specific robotics challenges. For agri / food related businesses these could include the design of applications which advance process productivity, increase efficiency, or solve labour challenges; and for robotics related technology providers the focus could be on unlocking the next generation of your product offering to best meet the needs of the agri-food sector.
Examples of some of the benefits that could be derived:
- Improved sales and price
- Fewer distress promotions
- Reduce imports
- Improved reliability and confidence in supply
- Improved matching of supply and demand,
- Improved scheduling of labour
- Reduced on farm and retail (higher shelf life) food waste
The AgriFoRwArdS Centre for Doctorial Training (CDT) is a collaboration between the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and East Anglia, providing your business with the opportunity to work with experts leading in their fields and their extensive R&D facilities. AgriFoRwArdS brings together a unique collaboration between the 3 partner Universities, PhD studentships and industry, by creating a unique community that identifies agri-food specific issues, and finds solutions using Robotics and Autonomous System (RAS) technologies.
The PhD project outputs will feed directly from your business interests. Your return on investment will be derived from the benefits that your organisation will draw from the selected project and wider engagement with the CDT. You, and the PhD student, will benefit from leading University research supervision provided by the consortium, working alongside and complementing the expertise present within your own organisation.
The project will be largely funded by the UK government via their Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), together with a smaller financial contribution from your organisation.
Benefits of engaging with the CDT:
- Advance your business and sector position – Research completed by the CDT will be inspired by your project proposal.
- The research will be heavily supplemented by EPSRC funding, reducing any financial commitment hurdles, de-risking your investment, and significantly amplifying your return on investment.
- The studentship could be used as the first stage of a long-term employment / R&D engagement with the individual who will be trained by the CDT.
- Projects will have supervisors from across the consortium providing high levels of expertise tailored to the project.
- Your organisation will be invited to AgriFoRwArdS events, providing the opportunity to network/collaborate with leading stakeholders from across industry, academia and government.
Students will undertake a 4-year research initiative. Firstly they will complete an MSc programme in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, which includes a preliminary MSc project designed to feed directly into the PhD study. Having prepared the foundations in Year 1, Years 2-4 will advance full-time PhD research focussed on addressing your business-related challenges in robotics and autonomous systems.
The initiative involves significant funding support from government, and Industry Partners are asked to make a smaller commitment towards the funding of their business-focused studentships.
The total cost of a 4-year studentship equates to more than £98,605, including a grant to defray living expenses, research travel costs, and MSc and PhD fees. We request Industry Partners to contribute £32,000 towards the total cost of the studentship, with the remaining 66% of the funding being provided by EPSRC. Businesses are not restricted to one PhD studentship – multiple projects can be supported if this is a preferred approach – and the EPSRC support will remain at the very high level.
For further details on the required financial contribution, please contact the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team.
Once your business has decided to commit to this initiative the next step will be for the proposed Project Lead (from within your organisation) to complete the AgriFoRwArdS Industry Project Proposal Form and return it to the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team.
Email address for completed Project Proposal Form: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who can submit a proposal?
Authorised personnel, from within your organisation, can propose a PhD project, ideally the “Project Lead” (although this role can be allocated at a later date, if beneficial).
On what topic?
AgriFoRwArdS addresses fundamental challenges in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) technologies for both agriculture and food production. The project should be based upon a business need and focus on one of the following RAS component technology areas, including but not limited to (see also Figure 1):
- Mobile autonomy: Agri-Food robots need to move in challenging dynamic, often GPS-denied and semi-structured environments with high precision. Autonomous mobility entails the integration of technologies for mapping, self-localisation and understanding of challenging farm and factory environments, dynamic path planning, precise motor control and locomotion, including safe operation in the presence of human workers.
- Manipulation and soft robotics: Manipulators are needed for a range of tasks, replacing dexterous human labour, reducing costs and increasing quality. Handling of delicate, unstructured objects such as food products requires new approaches to compliant and flexible manipulation. Example PhD topics might include vision- and tactile-guided handling and grasping tasks, and advanced functional materials for soft sensing and actuation.
- Sensing and perception: Machine vision and other modalities are needed for analysis of food products and sensor-guided control of robotic systems. Objectives might include classification of crops and weeds; phenotyping; quality analysis of food products; yield prediction; state estimation and modelling of farm or factory environments; detection, identification and tracking of human workers; etc.
- Fleet management: The true potential of robotics in agriculture and food production will be realised when different types of robots and autonomous systems are brought together in a systemic approach. Holistic approaches to fleet management are required, which fully integrate component methods for goal allocation, joint motion planning, coordination and control, as well as research on their integration and scaling to applications in agri-food.
- Human-robot collaboration: Many robotic applications will augment rather than replace human workers. Research may be needed into collaborative robotic systems or ‘co-bots’ that can work alongside human workers, for example, robots for fruit transportation working alongside human pickers, and to improve the safety of human-robot interactions in food production environments.
These technologies will be integrated together in robotic systems, and brought to bear in solving the unique challenges of the agri-food industry, as per this call.
Please contact the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team to see how research areas can be matched with your specific industry challenge. Further information on potential research areas can also be found in the UK-RAS White Paper on the Future of Robotic Agriculture.
Proposals should demonstrate that whilst meeting the business objectives the student will be engaged on a rewarding and relevant research project that will provide them with a first-class research experience.
- The proposal should have clearly articulated aims, objectives and focus.
- The project should clearly enable the student to demonstrate a level of independence and originality, to test ideas and hypotheses, and to make a contribution to learning that would be potentially worthy of publication, subject to consultation with the industry partner on any IP arising.
- The proposal should detail the industrial challenge / participation, including agreed financial contributions.
Suitability & Feasibility
The project should be well-suited to a PhD. It will have clear aims that provide opportunities for intellectual challenge whilst having a reasonable element of “security” in that due progress can be made within the time constraints.
- The project is feasible within the given resource limitations (including financial constraints).
- The project is achievable within the given time frame.
- Risks to the completion of the project are identified, and robust contingency plans described that would allow the student to successfully conclude a programme of doctoral level research in the event of delays to, or failure of, the original work plan.
You are actively encouraged to have engaged with a supervisor, from one of the partner universities, prior to submitting the project proposal. However, this is not a prerequisite and the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team will work with you, either pre or post submission, to facilitate communications between yourselves and supervisors. A list of supervisors, and their research areas, has been provided as part of this call out document. If you would like to discuss what supervisory skills will be ideal for the study, please email the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team, so that a call can be arranged. Similarly, if you would like to speak to a specific supervisor, please email the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team (email@example.com) so that contact can be arranged, with the relevant supervisor/s on your behalf.
How to apply
Please download the current Project Proposal Form from the above link, or via the AgriFoRwArdS website.
Selection of projects
PhD projects should align with at least one of the above Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) component technology areas, and be based on a real-world challenge, as defined by you, the industry partner. As there is a finite amount of government support available project selection will be subject to evaluation by the CDT Executive Team and approval by the CDT Industrial Advisory Board. Selection criteria will include alignment with the CDT objectives, scientific quality (originality, significance and rigour of the proposed research), industry partnership, and the ability to match the project to the expertise of an ideal supervisory team.
Potential Supervisors and Their Research Interests
Please email the AgriFoRwArdS Delivery Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that contact can be arranged, with the relevant supervisor(s) on your behalf