The Energy Efficiency Benefits of Shifting Intelligence Gradients Upwards
Gradients are temporary states of disequilibrium, and they are what makes the world go round.  Temperature, pressure and gravitational gradients drive climate, and these and other gradients such as electrical charge drive engineered systems; chemical gradients drive physiological functions and chemical reactions; supply-demand gradients drive economies and trade.  
Within economies, ownership is a critical determinant of gradients. Ownership of real estate corners part of a market; ownership of intellectual property creates exclusivity of supply.  The same also applies to data – except Big Data.  The big idea with Big Data is that it isn’t exclusive, but is a pre-competitive resource which competing actors can use to create their own gradients.  These are in the form of distinct and profitable contributions to marketplaces which are usually associated with the common good because most people need the goods and services involved.  The Bigness of the data is because there are so many generators or contributors to it, or it represents many events or entities.  Big Data is defined by the three Vs – volume, velocity and variety.
In SMART’s field of sustainable resource use in manufacturing, Big Data hasn’t really arrived.  In the UK, through the annual PRODCOM Survey, we know about the types and amounts of energy used by whole industry sectors, but this is not broken down into sub-sectors or stages of manufacturing in each sector; there is no common information below the economy level about materials, water and chemicals flows and conversions.  For manufacturing resource use, there is really only Small Data, kept by individual companies and in some cases their software providers, and No Data, where even a company does not know about some of its resource use. 
This problem of Small Data has been highlighted in reports such as the Made Smarter Review 2017, led by Siemens’ CEO Juergen Maier.  This endorsed the idea of data trusts – proven and trusted frameworks and agreements – “to overcome one of the biggest inhibitors in exploiting industrial data technologies in manufacturing: a reluctance to share data”.
One particular set of manufacturing data which could usefully become Big is the energy use profiles of machines for defined tasks or product outputs. This has been extensively researched for machine tools, mainly the working of metals, and the public data pool is in the form of many academic papers.  More recently at SMART, we have been researching energy use in food manufacturing.  An easy initial observation was that well-known improvements to the operation of existing machinery and management actions are gradually being implemented.  Beyond this, we also found that there is plenty of potential for reducing energy use through technical and process innovation, but that the use of that potential is being determined by the Small Data which currently represents it.  Comparable machine energy data is low in volume, velocity and variety, hardly being generated or gathered.  As a result, we reckon that the innovation activity is far lower than it could be.
A major conclusion from the research is therefore that comparable machine energy data needs the Big Data treatment.  Imagine a virtual resource holding scientifically valid and robust comparisons of energy use by different machine designs, embodied in brands, making the same product.  This would be a pre-competitive resource which actors in the food manufacturing ecosystem could use to add their particular value to the energy efficiency of production.  Visibility would be a key attribute, much as a mirror or a video is an effective instructional aid.  The machinery manufacturers would be able to see how their products perform against peers; software developers would have much bigger and richer datasets on which to perform useful analytics, compared to the datasets from their limited pool of clients; energy consultants could take their insights to a more sophisticated level; engineering consultants could innovate with the prospect of a much wider impact than single client contracts can offer; and food manufacturers would see the scope for improvement through their anonymised place in energy league tables for the products in question.  Peer psychology would operate to stimulate attention to improvement, as has happened in other sectors.  The availability of a richer pool of energy data would free resources for competitive aspects of the food business such as product performance and marketing.  
Other users of this Big Data for the common good would be academics, government departments and agencies and utilities producing power and fuels.
SMART is hoping to stimulate the creation of such a resource for food and other manufacturing; a large reservoir of Big Data from which gradients of intelligence at a higher level can be generated, in order to drive accelerated energy efficiency improvements and reduce the environmental and financial cost of all our food products.
Posted on 15 February 2018 By Phil Sheppard

Robots & Food: A Match Made in Heaven

We cannot deny that technology has become the new normal. Humans have integrated technology into every aspect of their lives in the search for the most convenient lifestyle. The current wave of technology sees the introduction of robots into routine, daily aspects of a person’s life. The best one? Robots making our Food! The food industry recently saw a boost in the number of robots working in kitchens, cafés and bars, aiming to serve customers high quality products. Here we explore the top 5 edibles perfected by robots.

  1. Flippy the Burger Flipping Robot

At Caliburger in California (US), Flippy can be found at the grill flipping burger patties, adding cheese and toasting buns. Its highly advanced sensors allow Flippy to tell exactly when a burger patty is ready to be placed in a bun. A mere human must add on your toppings and sauces, but don’t worry as Flippy’s creators, Miso Robotics, are working on giving Flippy more responsibilities. [1]

  1. Sally the Salad Robot

Tired of waiting in the salad bar line at your dorm or office cafeteria? Sally the Salad Robot can handle that for you! Sally is a table top robot, designed by robotics company Chowbotics in the US to churn out a salad in 60 secs depending on the consumer's choice! Its ability to manage a variety of 21 different ingredients allows for thousands of different combinations. [2]

  1. Zume Pizza

If you’re ordering a pizza from Zume Pizza in San Jose (US), it is guaranteed that every bite will have the exact amount of tomato sauce, all thanks to a delta robot (i.e. a robot hanging from the ceiling!) evenly distributing it onto the dough. After human employees place the chosen toppings, another robot will transport it to the oven.  Zume’s kitchen aims to employ more robots to work alongside humans to create the perfect pizza of the future! [3]

  1. Koya & Kona the Ramen Slinging Robots

What’s better than eating authentic ramen in China? It being made in 90 seconds by robots of course! At the Toyako Robot Ramen restaurant, you can order the braised pork ramen and watch through the glass panels as two robot arms, Koya and Kona, boil the noodles, drain them and then assemble your dish with the other pre-cooked ingredients. [4]

  1. The Bionic Bar

If you find yourself on one of Royal Caribbean’s ‘Quantum of the Seas’ class cruise ships and craving a drink, you can head down to their Bionic Bar, order yourself a great-tasting cocktail and receive it in under a minute from a robot! The bar employs two robotic arms, B1-O and N1-C, who mix the drinks with millimeter precision according to your selected or custom order! [5]

Pay close attention to your favorite local café, restaurant or bar; you might just have a run-in with a food whizzing robot!

Bonus: Moley the Robotic Kitchen

If you’re a very busy individual who finds very little time to spend in the kitchen, struggle no more because in 2018 you can own your very own Robotic Kitchen. Moley Robotics in London (UK) designed the Moley Chef Robot to make any meal chosen from an iTunes style based database or it can even be taught to follow steps from a recipe of your own. Its safety features allow users to set it up to prepare food while they are sleeping or on their way home from work. [6] 


[1] (2017). Miso Robotics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

[2] Chowbotics. (2017). Chowbotics - Robots for Food Service. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

[3] Zaleski, O. (2016). Inside Silicon Valley’s Robot Pizzeria. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

[4] Filloon, W. (2016). Watch Ramen-Slinging Robots Prepare Bowls in Just 90 Seconds. [online] Eater. Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

[5] Makr Shakr. (2017). The World's First Robotic Bar System. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

[6] (2017). Moley – The world's first robotic kitchen. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

Posted on 09 January 2018 By Farah Bader

Create Chaos with a Sustainable Christmas

Christmas is a time to spend in the company of friends and family with plenty of warmth, good cheer and, of course, food. That is the romantic idyll anyway. The reality is that there will be stress, disagreements, disappointment and perhaps a lot of things that can or should not be eaten. So if things are about to go to pot anyway, why not make it your own and create some untraditional chaos by choosing to have a sustainable Christmas. Below are our top seven tips:

1)    ‘Zero waste’ experience gifts are not a new idea. But how do you make sure that the experience you gift doesn’t have a larger carbon footprint than three layers of wrapping paper enveloping fair trade coffee beans? If you live in typical suburbia, leaving it in your diesel guzzling vehicle is usually the first step towards enjoying your experience day. If someone is to come to your home to provide an experience, they will no doubt be faced with the same proposition in reverse. In conclusion, the most sustainable ‘experience gift’ should probably not involve getting out of bed.

2)    Will your child appreciate gifts that you hand lovingly craft from recyclable material found around the home? The answer is certainly dependent on how they have been raised. If your child watches television or goes to school with less enlightened individuals, social and peer pressure will have their influence. So let’s face it, your child needs at least one unsustainable gift for bragging rights. But try and keep it at one.

3)    Now that you know vast quantities of space need not be allocated beneath a Christmas tree (see no. 2 above), why not dispense with the tree altogether? If you live in an area where roads are maintained by pruning back trees and hedges, you can bring home your very own Christmas twig. If that is not convenient, a single piece of paper (reused of course) can be cut into the shape of a small tree and decorated. These will look fine on any table, and any gifts can be put under said table, conveniently out of the way. Use your sustainable imagination!

4)    How do you say no to gifts? It’s very simple: say ‘No gifts please’. Practise in front of a mirror, post on social media, and put it in your email signature. Where practical, return unwanted gifts to sender this year and, guaranteed, you will not have to do the same next year.

5)    Don’t compound the problem by giving gifts that nobody wants. Gift givers fall into two general categories: those that look for the perfect gift months or years in advance, and those that shop at the petrol station the night before. Neither is really sustainable. Remember the words ‘gift’ and ‘present’ do not have ‘surprise’ in their definition. If there must be gifts, do not buy surprise gifts and do not buy anything unless the recipient specifies exactly what they want, and it is sustainable for you to get it for them.

6)    There is no need to clean the house before Christmas only to fill it with tacky decorations and glaringly inefficient coloured lights. In the interests of your personal social sustainability and sanity, dust bunnies are cute and windows only need washing if your curtains aren’t thick enough. When asked where your festive spirit is by those rude enough to ask, simply point to the Christmas twig (see no. 3 above).

7)    Unless you live next door to a homeless shelter, all food that is cooked should be consumed. If you like leftovers, by all means, make them. If you don’t, forcing other people to take them out of your house is greenwash as you no longer have control of whether they are eaten or not. Try to source your food locally and sustainably, use appropriate portion sizes and remember that your dog/cat are not garburators. Where appropriate, compost waste.

If you adopt these seven simple tips and stick with them, you are sure to create chaos this Christmas. Relax and take comfort in the fact that your first sustainable Christmas will be the first of many. The truth is, as illustrated above, being sustainable requires less effort than being unsustainable and before you know it, sustainability will be a trend. And bah humbug to anyone who thinks otherwise.

© Centre for SMART (Hana Trollman and Elliot Woolley)

Posted on 01 December 2017 By Elliot Woolley