April & May Links

I can see cows from space

The british robotics researcher Ian Hales was interviewed about his work using computer vision to ascertain the health of herds of cows. Cows are also being tracked even more closely as companies like Connecterra are raising millions of euros in investment to become the ‘fitbit for cows’. While we’re on the subject make sure to listen to this BBC Radio 4 show on last month which discussed McDonald’s support of more sustainable practices as its UK branches by only local beef.

Our health, their health.

The Guardian interviewed the owner of Tyson Foods, one of the largest meat brands in the US about the impact of using antibiotics in livestock and our own resistance as humans.

“We’ve studied a lot of science about whether or not there is a direct connection [between the use of antibiotics in livestock and spread of antibiotic resistant infections in humans]. I’m not sure any of the science I’ve reviewed points to a straight connection [The US Department for Health confirms the link], but consumers are concerned so what we’re trying to do is address the consumer concern about antibiotic resistance. I don’t see there is a problem … I think we are better off if we have a production system that has the capability of using less of anything.”

Supersize this.

A great article in Vox on the difference in consumer expectations over the size of fruits and vegetables and the impact on taste. There’s also too much food being wasted by customers and students at Bristol University have designed a countertop unit to allow you to grow your own herbs and vegetables.

Sugar with that?

A brewery in Germany is fighting regulators over the definition of beer because theirs contains sugar.

Neuzelle’s signature tipple, which has been brewed to the same monks’ recipe since 1410, fell foul of Germany’s “purity law”, known in German as the Reinheitsgebot, a medieval food safety rule which deemed that beer could contain nothing other than water, barley, hops and, later, also yeast.

Noone left to tip

Spyce is a fully automated kitchen invented by engineering students at MIT to cater to areas with less access. See their website and video.

The team believes the Spyce Kitchen could revolutionize the fast food industry since it doesn’t rely on any human workers and produces nutritious meals at low prices. It can serve all types of bowls, like stir-fry, rice, pasta, pad thai, quinoa, and curry.


February & March Links

It’s been a little quiet on Twitter these past two months, so here’s a condensed report for February and March!

Christien Meindertsma gave a great TED talk about her research tracking all the industrial application of pig parts. Bullets, soap and more! A little scary.

Food Bytes is a food and ag tech event coming up in the US in June and September this year.  Definitely worth looking at demoing your product there if you have a chance.

FoodBytes! Summits is the preeminent event series dedicated to connecting disruptive food, agriculture, beverage and tech start-ups with investors, executives and industry leaders.

Meicai (which means vegetables) is an app using low cost smartphones in China which connects farmers to restaurants giving diners access to fresh fruit and vegetables which would have been picked 12 to 18h earlier. It earned a valuation of $1bn and currently employs over 9,000 people, The founder Chuanjun Liu was interviewed in this month’s Wired UK.

‘He calculated that, between restaurant and farm, seven layers of middlemen extracted up to 90 per cent of the crops’ value. For example, for 500g of potatoes, sold in restaurants for $12, a farmer could expect to be paid 21 cents.’

In Australia BaptistCare which managed aged care facilities, nursing homes, retirement villages, community housing, community services and home services operations is using wifi-enabled products and equipment to help their community of over 17K residents.

[…] one critical operation stands out: a combination of networking technology and unified communications integrated with a core wireless network, which enables BaptistCare’s nurse call system to locate the nearest nurse/carer to a resident when a call button is pressed. Each staff member wears a Wi-Fi-enabled communications device around their neck, enabling the system to identify the nearest caregiver and providing a rapid response to the patient. Once the call is accepted by the carer, an instant voice channel is established with the resident.

The next step will be to IP-enable the environment so that it may eventually include medical device monitoring of residents in each facility. The data collected will enable real-time reporting, along with automated updates to clinical care notes. In future, the data will also provide predicative analytics about the medical state of residents and provide alerts prior to a medical event occurring.

Back in January, Deloitte University Press published a report on ag tech and the internet of things. Nothing much new, but a nice review of what’s going on.

The Quadram Institute will open in 2018 in the UK and is a collaboration across BBSRC together with its three Norwich-based partners: the Institute of Food Research (IFR); the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUH); and the University of East Anglia (UEA). They intend to focus on on four research themes: the gut and the microbiome (the gut flora); healthy ageing; food innovation; and food safety.

The Perennial in San Francisco is a new ‘post-agrarian’ restaurant that promotes progressive farming. Have a read about recipes and principles they use in their kitchen.

A longer read but a great one on Medium about the need to keep cattle on America’s desert land even if we move away from eating them.

And finally Cisco, the University of New South Wales and Data 61 are collaborating on a new research institute around the internet of things in agriculture.

January Links

A little breakdown from our tweets in January.

  • This article in Paris Match (french) describes what are thought to be cranial deformations in children due to Zika but may in fact be because of a pesticide produced by a partner of Monsanto that was meant to eradicate dengue fever.
  • After years of grass-roots campaigning, the French have become the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food. They are now forced to donate it to charities or food banks.
  • Cows now have 3D printed cow bells embedded with sensors and GPS tracking devices. The collar is a result of a European project which includes input from the Irish government agricultural research agency Teasgac, the Institut d’Laval in France, and Swiss group Agroscope. It’s a bell-shaped, GPS-enabled collar containing an array of sensors that can track grazing patterns, social behavior, and even less dynamic activities such as cud chewing. The developers say the “geo-fences” can be used remotely to take over the task of manually locating the old style electric fences on which farmers once relied.
  • In California, undocumented farm workers (40-50%) are fighting for a new Bill of Rights as they suffer from abusive work environments.

“There have been lots of kind of explosions of the last couple years of cities trying to move minimum wages, maternity leave, wage theft ordinances. But that’s really been concentrated in urban areas. There’s been essentially nothing like this in a rural areas. We think this can set precedent for other counties to set stronger labor conditions for farm workers.”

  • In a bizzarely re-edited article, NPR shares research efforts to show that showing ads for food makes people hungry and may contribute to obesity which should lead to future regulation around this space.

“Why do we still allow food advertising when children can sit in front of TV cartoons, and in between they get exposed to burgers, fries, chocolate — things we know are nutritionally not the best?” she says. “[Those ads] lead them to ask [for] and want to eat those foods, and that’s something we need to think about really seriously.”

The company takes an innovative approach to farming, growing crops inside repurposed shipping containers, dubbed Leafy Green Machines. It is hoped that the use of an IoT platform will allow for more detailed monitoring of growing conditions in real-time. Combined with IoT sensors and a suite of bespoke apps, Xively will enable farmers to assess their crops remotely, tracking features such as temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and plant growth. Alerts are delivered whenever any of these metrics fall out of the ideal growing range. The data collected from users will also enable Freight Farms to improve their own services, giving them greater insight into how customers are utilising their products.

December Links

A little breakdown from our tweets in December.

  • Farmbot founder Rory Aronson gave a talk about the need for great documentation in open source projects.
  • Juliet Harbutt who contributed to the UK developing its local cheese industry and identity is coming back to New Zealand. She was interviewed for the BBC on Radio 4. Read about her UK efforts on her website.
  • The Digital Catapult in London is running a workshop on the use of drones in agriculture and looking for SMEs to get involved.
  • The Guardian wrote about the use of antibiotics in cattle and fish farming and its impact on humans.

The panel of experts undertook a review of 139 academic studies on antibiotic use in agriculture and found that only seven argued found no link between consumption in animals and resistance in humans, while 100 found evidence of a link. They argue therefore that there should be a limit for each country to reduce antibiotic use in food production to an agreed level per kilogram of livestock and fish. They say this should be determined by experts, but suggest that a good starting point would be reducing levels to that of Denmark – an average of less than 50mg of antibiotics per year per kilogram of livestock in the country. Denmark has combined low use with being one of the world’s largest exporters of pork. The review also says that “countries need to come together and agree to restrict, or even ban, the use of antibiotics in animals that are important for humans”.

Now, in the first study of its kind, an international team of scientists has found that after agriculture arrived in Europe 8,500 years ago, people’s DNA underwent widespread changes, altering their height, digestion, immune system and skin color.

  • Australia has come under fire about its treatment of animals in farming.
  • A Q&A with AgFunder’s CEO is also a good read on MediumAgFunder is a crowdfunding platform for agricultural tech startups.
  • An ebook  (pdf) written by researchers at the University of Iowa offers guidelines and policy suggestions to cities that want to support urban farming.
  • Don’t want to grow chickens? Mealworms may be the future of protein then with Livin farms, a desktop hive for edible insects.

Thoughts on small #iot and learnings from the Agritech Investment Summit

We attending the London Agritech Investment Summit in London this month and wanted to share a few thoughts.

Above or below ‘things’

A lot of what we work on at Wintec Innovate is promoting the application of sensor-based technologies in the ground for farmers to know more about what happens to their land when they exploit it. Of course what was obvious from the Summit was that this is a model that works well with a certain amount of land. It also works well when you can actually walk the land or use equipment to review the state of each sensor easily. Batteries might need changing, birds might damage them, etc. This is something a farmer who owns a plot of land of a certain size may be happy to do. But what happens when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of acres on American soil?

Response from companies like Syngenta and Monsanto is that aerial imaging becomes the more economically viable solution. Drone companies (represented at the event by DJI from the Netherlands) seem to be keen to get in on the action but the service layer seemed to be missing. To train a farmer to fly a drone is more work and more costly to the company and the farmer than if the farmer or agri company pays someone in a cessna to do multi-spectral imaging, something the Galileo Group was showcasing very well.

For the internet of things to grow in this sector, it will become about developing a smart overlapping solution where sensors have a role along imaging. We didn’t see many companies addressing both options so far.

The other elephant in the room was related to the level of digital knowhow and budgets for small land owners and farmers. Some of the solutions offered were simply too complex to get them onboard (sometimes not without reason) or too expensive. After all when you’re a farmer, even a GPS unit on your equipment can represent an important cost and the return on investment has to be clear. This seemed to be an issue shared by attendees from small countries with very fragmented markets.

The availability of capital

Because this was predominant an investment event, this was really the hot topic. Surprisingly though, the afternoon investment panels highlighted the same issues as most digital technology entrepreneurs in Europe:  why they can’t raise as much capital as their counter-parts in Silicon Valley. Of course government funding seemed available, but not sustainable. Startups such as Gamaya complained about the lack of access to the right stakeholders at large companies and the lack of local corporate investment. Google Ventures was even invited to contribute to the debate, a sign of their future interest in this area perhaps?

The sustainable (missing) link

A topic area which we’re really interested in here is sustainable farming and this was really absent from the event. It may be that other conferences are better suited, but surely sustainable or closed loop farming will be an imperative (whether it comes from EU regulation or elsewhere). The conferences moves on to San Francisco in a few months, maybe this will be a topic they will address there, in a state suffering from drought.

October & November Links

A little breakdown from our tweets in October & November.

Consumers are walking away from America’s most iconic food brands. Big food manufacturers are reacting by cleaning up their ingredient labels, acquiring healthier brands and coming out with a prodigious array of new products.

  • Gamaya, a startup in Switzerland uses imagery and a mobile app to allow farmers to plan the water management and pesticide management of their crops and share with consumers where their food comes from and how many people were involved in harvesting that food.
  • In the state of Washington, a small town got together to build their own internet provision.

Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their ownnetwork and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.

OpenAg’s mission is to create healthier, more engaging, and more inventive food systems. The precursor to these systems is the creation of an open-source ecosystem of food technologies that enable and promote transparency, networked experimentation, education, and local production.

The goal is to create the first open-source agricultural technology research lab, and to build collaborative tools and open technology platforms for the exploration of future food systems.

  • Re.Work, a London-based co-working space is putting together an event on the Future of Food production featuring talks about Precision Agriculture, Climate-smart Farming, Drones, AI, Robotics, Crop & Livestock Genomics, Internet of Farm Things, Urban Farming, Waste Management
  • Great article on 3DR’s blog on the use of drones in agriculture and the challenges in pricing and services.
  • We finish with a little research on sheep and mimicry.

This study shows that the intensity with which the sheep mimic one another plays a crucial role in the ability of a herd to maximize the grazing area explored while minimizing the time needed to regroup when faced with potential dangers.


September links

A little breakdown from our tweets in September.

The industry-led 25-year plan will up the country’s ambitions for food and farming, setting out how we can grow more, buy more and sell more British food. Today’s event kick-starts the plan’s development, discussing ways to promote a British brand, grow exports, improve skills, attract high-flyers and harness data and technology so the industry can innovate, grow and create jobs.

  • Forbes hosted the ‘Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit‘ in July in California. Sadly very little online documentation but the agenda hints at a lot of connected farms topics.
  • In Liège (Belgium) Reciprocity Festival will be taking place in November.

Committed to its core principles, ‘reciprocity’ and design for social innovation are still the main threads of RECIPROCITY 2015. As a laboratory and showcase of ‘best practices’, RECIPROCITY brings together numerous local, cross-border (Euregio Meuse-Rhine) and international actors in order to generate debate among the public, professionals, and media on the role played by design today.

  • Speaking of conferences, Future Food Tech will be taking place in London in early November too. The Future Food-Tech summit will feature 30+ speakers who will discuss the critical technologies, social innovations, and market opportunities shaping food manufacturing, processing, storage, transport and distribution.
  • In Wales, farmers are collaborating with the University of Lancaster to use wifi chips and sensors on sheep to gather health and beahvioural data.
  • Speaking of sheep, we found an interesting map of meat consumption / country.
  • Hello Tractor is a tractor rental scheme in Nigeria that uses SMS to book it and is equipped with sensors that capture data on a cloud platform for cash-strapped farmers. See a little press about the project.


Corporate branding – a unique corporate sound?

What if corporate branding went beyond having a logo, a colour, to have a unique corporate sound?  What if a company not only has its own tune associated with it, but its own unique and bespoke music instruments with music composed specifically for those instruments?

What if making new music includes designing and 3D printing the instrumens to use as well as composing music for them?  That can only be fun!

August links

A little breakdown from our tweets in August.

  • The Engine Room (Global) support the effective use of data and technology in advocacy and have some great resources around the use of tech in social impact.
  • The School of Data (Global) works to educate civil society organizations, journalists and citizens on the use of data. They host a 9 month fellowship program.
  • Grain, an international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems has a post on the global players involved in land grabs.
  • Microsoft developed HealthyCow24 an #iot solution with Azure and across national weather and farming databases on mobile and desktop apps.
  • The UK government  developed a Rural Productivity Plan and published its first report.  This plan looks to benefit rural areas by getting:
    • rural areas fully connected to the wider economy
    • a highly skilled rural workforce
    • strong conditions for rural business growth
    • easier to live and work in rural areas
    • greater local control
  • Blood donors in Sweden get a text message when their blood helps save someone’s life.
  • Some of the UK’s banking sector is looking to link performance in trading to the physiological state of an employee by monitoring their stress levels with wearable technologies.
  • A Guardian article goes into the details of the impact of changing weather conditions on farming and food security

‘But while larger economies would be less directly impacted and more able to absorb rising food prices, he said “countries like the UK and the US are very much exposed to the indirect consequences”. Such consequences could include the likely increased instability of countries in North Africa, where the inflation of food prices was a factor in causing the Arab Spring and which relies heavily on food imports.’

  • Still in the UK, the crisis of British milk has meant consumers are invited to buy directly from the farm and the Guardian published an interactive map.