The Internet of Things - The newest ally in the war against food insecurity?

On a global scale, we believe it is fair to say that food production is neither sustainable, nor secure. 
Whilst globally we are now producing more food than ever before due to advances in production technology (‘the green revolution’), this food does not always make it to the people who need it the most . Indeed, globally, 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life . In other words, whilst we have more power to improve availability of food globally, we are struggling with ensuring uniform access. This is compounded by the fact that many parts of the world suffer from chronic obesity and staggering food waste. As much as a third of all food in the world that is fit for human consumption is wasted at some point in the supply chain.
Not only do we need to improve our current system, we also need to contend with a number of projected challenges. With increasing global population estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, we have to increase our food production without causing further damage to the natural ecosystems upon which our ability to produce food depend.   We need to do so in the face of climate change which is increasingly influencing what food we can produce and where. We also have to contend with significant societal change, for example, growing middle classes and ageing populations globally, who demand ever more convenient and resource intensive foods.
To overcome these challenges we need more information on how food is being produced, where it is in supply chains, what the state of that food is, and where it is needed.
Enter the Internet of Things.
The IoT is a breakthrough technology when it comes to improving sustainability across the food supply chain. Put simply, it refers to any device that can be connected to the internet where it is able to collect and transmit data, potentially allowing a limitless web of remote sensors. It is about big data generation and more, about getting that information to the right people at the right time and even about calibrating real time decisions autonomously. 
This is not a Sci-Fi scenario, but increasingly reality. For example we already see:
  • Smart farming – farmers have real-time access to vital data concerning water usage, soil quality and energy usage to compare their crop yields to those of other growers both in their regions and beyond .
  • Smart Trucks – To track and locate the consignment of food, monitor temperature, record tampering, protect the consignment, and to provide information on disruptions ahead and alternative routes . 
  • Smart Factories –real-time data of stock from farm to fork, predictive maintenance of equipment and consistent remote monitoring of stock conditions from a health as well as quality perspective4.
  • Smart Supermarkets – Technologies that can assist consumers with choosing healthy, allergen free, nutritious, special-diet (diabetic, low salt, etc.) food, send alerts to fill empty shelves and automatically place orders with suppliers or depots .  
  • Smart Kitchens- Sensors to detect when meat and produce has gone off as well as refrigerators which can alert owners when food stocks are running low and provide recipes to use up remaining food (thus tackling food waste) . 
As these existing examples of applications of the IoT demonstrate, through careful monitoring of resource consumption and analysis of enormous amounts of data, the IoT can potentially play a significant role in improving efficiency and reducing waste across our food supply chains. In coming years, this trend is only likely to continue. It is, however, about more than efficiency: the IoT offers a way of making food supply chains more responsive to the changing socio-demographics anticipated in the near future, from ageing populations, to changing lifestyles. As a result, the IoT may well be just the vital conduit our food systems require to become more sustainable, secure and responsive.
  2. Global Panel of Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition,
  3. Beecham Research, Towards Smart Farming, Executive Summary,
  6. Internet of Things and its role in Smart Kitchen:


Posted on 25 January 2017 By Sandeep Jagtap

Artificial Intelligence and Manufacturing


Ever since the industrial revolution and the birth of modern manufacturing, cost effectiveness and the desire to save people from back breaking or tedious jobs has driven the development of ever better machines. Recent decades in particular have seen huge advancements in industrial robotics on the factory floor and computers and software in the management team. The benefits are clear and include significant gains in efficiency and reductions in cost. Increasingly artificial intelligence is playing a huge role in driving achievement. When we hear the term AI, we often think of films like Terminator and Star Wars which detail the threats posed by self-aware machines. However, at present our technology is limited to “Narrow Range Artificial Intelligence”, machines which are good at a single task, such as Siri, or in-car computers which assist in braking. However, as more and more pieces of equipment, across multiple companies and multiple countries are connected via the “Internet of Things”, there is increasingly a need for Artificial intelligence that can consider a huge range of parameters, something known as “General Artificial Intelligence”. The benefits could be huge and include super accurate prediction of market trends.
However, the threat of such free thinking Artificial Intelligence to humanity easily grabs plays on people’s fears of the unknown. There are concerns that such intelligence could easily misinterpret instructions to the detriment of mankind, or that it may be to self-evolve to a point that it operates far beyond human comprehension. This is amplified by prominent voices such as Stephen Hawking who recently cautioned that “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Alternatively, the outcomes in terms of long term sustainability concerning preservation of our planets resources and ensuring that it remains inhabitable for us are incredible. 
Either way, progress over the last century has been inexorable and does not progress in a linear fashion, rather at an exponential rate as new developments, particularly developments in communication, allow future developments to progress at a faster rate. The better question to be asked is: How can we have all the benefits of AI without the worst case scenarios or potential dangers that are envisaged? If we look at stem cell research, legislation may help, but it is not a solution. Failsafe mechanisms can be circumvented. But such illegal activities are human ‘failures’, not those of AI.
A much more realistic and pragmatic view of the future of AI is one in which we consider the host of possible outcomes, and rationally weigh the benefits versus the dangers while keeping in mind that we are the biggest threat to ourselves.
Posted on 20 July 2016 By Shahin Rahimifard

Sign of the times? UK Anaerobic Digestion capacity is now greater than that of a nuclear power station.


Anaerobic Digestion is one of the best ways of producing useful energy from organic waste products. Unsurprisingly, it is increasingly used for unavoidable food waste and can significantly reduce CO2 released to atmosphere compared to landfill. It is a significant component of research within The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food’s Eco- Food Manufacturing Project.
It is not just a research pipe dream either. The UK now has 411 anaerobic digestion (AD) plants spanning farming and industry as well as the more traditional use in the waste sector. Together, these plants produce over 500MW, and now provide more capacity than the Wylfa nuclear power plant in Wales . 
One of the major advantages of AD technology is that it recovers energy from waste feed-stocks from established systems, such as crops, sewage and some consumer waste, which would otherwise go to landfill or incineration. AD works by breaking down waste in large tanks to generate biogas (mostly C02 and methane) which can then be used directly as fuel, converted to electricity, or fed into the grid as surplus. Efficient capture and treatment technologies mean that much fewer greenhouse gases make it into the atmosphere from AD systems than would if disposed of via landfill . As such, it constitutes a major source of UK renewable energy alongside wind, solar and hydroelectric. 
However, unlike wind and solar which are intermittent, and hydroelectric which is limited in scope, AD provides continuous baseline energy. This is really important in balancing the UKs renewables portfolio- something which is vital if we are to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. Indeed, under EU obligations, 15% of the UK’s energy mix must come from renewables by 2020 . In 2014, the UK managed 7% and there are claims that AD could help to improve this. The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association’s (ABDA) chief executive Charlotte Morton has said that: “AD has the potential to meet 30% of UK domestic gas demand, and overall it could cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by 4% and support food security and production.”
It is not just the energy generated that is useful, the nitrogen rich digestate that is a by-product of the process is a good soil improver. Over 1 million tonnes were applied to agricultural land in the UK from 2012-2013 and it can also be used as fertiliser for amenity turf and hydroponic cropping systems. However, critics would point out that AD loses a lot of these benefits if feedstock is being grown on a large scale, specifically for AD. This is because it no longer reduces existing waste streams and could potentially compete with other land uses (such as food production). Furthermore, there is concern that many of the quick growing, dense crops such as maize that are grown on a large scale for AD could have negative impacts on biodiversity and soil quality .
Clearly AD has huge potential as a tool to reduce the amount of unavoidable waste going to landfill and to mitigate its environmental impact. In doing so, it forms an important pillar of the UKs renewable energy strategy, although these benefits are significantly reduced when crops are grown specifically as a feed-stock rather than utilising existing waste streams. To further develop the potential of AD, a recent Government report suggests that the future for the industry lies in expanding the nutrient quality, and thus market, for digestate, as well as work to include previously unutilised feed stocks .  
a-nuclear-power-station/. Accessed 01/10/2015
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[3] Department of Energy and Climate Change. Digest of United Kingdom
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_2015.pdf. Accessed 01/10/2015
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Posted on 20 July 2016 By Jamie Stone