AI Technologies for Allergen Detection and Smart Cleaning Food Production Workshop

In collaboration with the AI3 Science Discovery (AI3SD) and Internet of Food Things (IoFT) EPSRC Networks the RoboClean team ran a workshop in London on the 17th of October. The focus of the workshop was to discuss how digital technologies such as AI, sensors and robotics can be used for enhanced allergen detection and factory cleaning within food production environments. The workshop was well attended by a range of stakeholders from industry, academia and organisations such as the Food Standards Agency. The morning of the workshop had three speakers. Nik Watson from the University of Nottingham gave a talk on the future of factory cleaning. This talk covered a range of research projects from the University which developed new digital technologies to monitor and improve factory cleaning processes. The second talk was from AI3SD lead Jeremy Frey from the University of Southampton. Jeremy’s talk gave an introduction to AI and covered a range of new sensors which could be used to detect the presence of allergens in a variety of food products and environments. The final talk was delivered by Martin Peacock from Zimmer and Peacock, a company who develop and manufacture electrochemical sensors. Martin gave an introduction to the company and the technologies they develop before demonstrating how there sensor could be connected to an iPhone and determine the hotness of chilli sauce. Martin’s talk finished by discussing how electro chemical sensors could be used to detect allergens within a factory environment. The afternoon of the workshop focused on group discussions on the following the four topics – all related to allergen detection and cleaning within food production:

  • Data collection, analysis and use
  • Ethical issues
  • Cleaning robots
  • Sensors

Each group had a lead, however delegates moved between tables so they could contribute to more than one discussion. At the end of the workshop the lead from each group reported back with the main discussion points covered by the delegates. The delegates on the ‘robotics’ table reported that robots would play a large role in the future of factory cleaning as they would free up factory operators to spend time on more complicated tasks. The group felt that the design of the robots was essential and discussed that new factories should also be designed differently to facilitate robot cleaning more easily. The group also thought that effective communication with the robot was a key issue which needed further research. The ‘sensors’ group reported that any new sensors used to detect allergens or levels of cleanliness would need to fit into existing regulations and practices, but would be welcomed by the industry, especially if they could detect allergens or bacteria in real-time. The ‘data’ group reported that there was a need for data standards relevant to industrial challenge and there was also a need for open access data to enable the development of suitable analysis and visualisation methods. The ‘ethics’ group discussed numerous key topics including, Bias, Uncertainty, transparency, augmented intelligence and the objectivity of AI.

RoboClean update 11/6/2019

The RoboClean project is investigating the work of cleaning factory floors, and the potential for robotic cleaners to work alongside—and with—human operators to ensure factories meet the strict industry hygiene guidance. These robots will use the latest sensors to also detect the presence of food allergens, allowing factory managers to avoid cross-contamination of products, especially in batch-driven processes.

The project will deliver and evaluate an interactive connected platform to enable novel human-robot collaboration and IoT smart sensor data collection in food factories. See our prior blog post for more information about the project. In this post we would like to present an update of our progress.

We are engaging with local SMEs and multinational food manufacturers to understand more about the sorts of environments we envisage these technologies will be deployed. Through interviews, workshops, and factory visits we intend to explicate the requirements and challenges—both legal and socio-technical—for deploying robots to complex environments such as factories. These visits are now on-going and the outcomes of these will inform the project’s design work. This work is being led by Martin Porcheron in Computer Science.

Roberto Santos, from the University of Nottingham Digital Research Service (DRS), has joined the project and is collaborating with Carolina Fuentes from the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute on the development of our demonstrator robot platform. This platform, when complete, will support the autonomous and manual management of robot teams as well as individual robots. We are also currently in the process of developing a number of elicitation studies to understand the language and sorts of commands factory workers would use to direct and coordinate robots. Our focus at this stage is to deliver a platform suitable to control one robot at a time, and this is already taking shape with elicitation studies supporting this development process. Brian Logan from the Agents Lab in Computer Science is working with the team to ensure the platform design is suited to our multi-agent collaboration goals that will be delivered in later stages of the project.

Ahmed Rady from the Faculty of Engineering has also recently joined the project and is developing the processes for the smart sensors to detect various allergens, including collecting data that will be vital for the detection of these allergens. One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers is the cross contamination of allergens within the manufacturing environment, and cleaning is a critical step in preventing this. By deploying sensors with the robots, we will be able to detect and potentially prevent any food safety events before product leaves the factory.

Overall, the team is already working towards developing deliverables and is looking forward to a successful 2019.

Finally, the team will be presenting a poster at the ConnectedEverything 2019 conference in June, where we will be on hand to discuss the project’s objectives, approach, outcomes, and potential collaborations. We think this is a great opportunity to connect with potential partners in the manufacturing industry and look forward to seeing you there.

Written by Martin Porcheron


RoboClean: Human Robot Collaboration for Allergen-Aware Factory Cleaning

Human-Robot collaboration is expected to increase in the following years [Elprama, 2017]. The RoboClean project will investigate the potential of human-robot collaboration, integrated with IoT sensors for cleaning and allergen detection on a factory floor. We will be exploring, the impact of introducing a robot that can teamwork “hand to hand”, or better said  “hand to robo-hand” with a factory worker – focusing on assisting them rather than replacing their role.

RoboClean targets the food industry – supporting the cleaning and safety process in an industry where the presence of an allergen is a safety risk, and also given the relevance of this sectors annual contribution of £28 billion to the economy.

Early stages of the project involved a visit to a bread factory in Birmingham to learn about current work practices in food factory cleaning, and gain a better understand the social context of food factories. In addition, we built and evaluated a “Human-Robot Collaborative-Hub” – effectively the “brain”, combining a voice interface and a robot cleaner. This “hub” will store data on robot activity, to identify zones to be cleaned through voice interface control.  This activity enabled us to identify what functions and procedures (API) were required to control the robot.

The next stage of the project will involve designing and developing the architecture of the “Human-Robot Collaborative-Hub” as a bridge between cleaner robots’ and different user interfaces – to explore controlling robot interaction in different areas through voice interfaces, for example:  “Robot, clean around the round table” or “Robot, clean around the fridge”. We are also working on integrating a sensor capable to detect allergens, with the aim of directing the robot cleaner to specific locations using data from the “HR-Collaborative-Hub”.