Sensors with integrated photonics as key to our food security, also in the future

Sensors with integrated photonics as key to our food security, also in the future

The world’s population is growing exponentially. Precision agriculture running on integrated photonics is helping to keep our food supply safe and sustainable in the long term.

Together with key partners, OnePlanet Research Center is using the newest technology innovations to tackle problems in supply chains of perishable food products. Our goal is  to improve product quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and food waste with sensing and digital twin technology. The innovative sensor systems and the digital twins results in real-time status information and decision support. This opens possibilities for advanced quality-based control allowing for more efficient food chains with better matching supply and demand, more insight in the quality of the food products and less food waste. 

Imagine that.. we could use sensors and digital twins to improve the quality of perishable food products, while at the same time reduce greenhouse emissions and food waste!

To make a real impact within this domain, it is key to establish real-time access to supply chain conditions and product information in each stage of the supply- and production chain. OnePlanet Research Center is exploring the use of (i) advanced IoT sensor systems to monitor products in the supply chain,(ii) real-time data access and data integration to create the full picture of what is going on in the supply chain, and (iii) relevant models that allow for prediction of product characteristics at each moment of its lifetime.

With these elements in place, a digital twin of the product in the food supply chain can be created and continuously updated. The digital twin will allow for simulation of future behaviour in various scenarios, and thereby enables chain actors to make optimal decisions at each moment in time.

Two prototypes of a digital twin will be developed:

  1. The digital twin of the fresh supply chain, in which the emphasis lies on the long transportation and quality development of tropical fruits, such as bananas or avocados, and on non-destructive quality sensing of glasshouse vegetables such as tomatoes.
  2. And the digital twin of the meat production chain, in which the emphasis lies on individual quality monitoring of carcasses.

This work is done in a close collaboration between system and data integrators, sensor developers, use case partners and research institutes Wageningen Research and Imec as part of their collaboration in the OnePlanet Research Center initiative. OnePlanet is an innovation center for chip and digital technology in agri, food, health and environment. It is a collaboration between nano-technology R&D institute imec, Radboud University, Radboudumc and Wageningen University & Research.

This collaboration is a great example of how digital transformation can be applied in practice and have both economic and societal impact by reducing food waste, increasing product quality, reducing greenhouse gas emission, and increasing the profitability of the food chains.

Smart, sensor-based solutions will be a big step towards ultra-controlled greenhouse production that, in turn, will be a milestone in Indoor Autonomous Farming. The innovations developed will provide farmers and greenhouse management companies new opportunities for sustainable food production.

If we had the tools to fully automate crop cultivation in greenhouses, non-specialized workers would be able to perform basic greenhouse-management tasks, and enable professional practitioners and commercial greenhouse management companies to work more efficient, freeing them from repetitive and heavy labor. It would deliver farmers and plant scientists new insights to optimize plant health and production yields, and thus opportunities to make food production more sustainable. And it would allow food to be produced in urban locations, particularly where there is limited space, shortening the distance between producer and consumer.

Sensor-based, smart solutions

In Indoor Autonomous Farming, OnePlanet Research Center is developing a 3D sensor-based monitoring network and an integrated data platform that opens the way to autonomous greenhouse production and, in the longer term, fully-controlled vertical farming systems. The system might combine, for example, cameras measuring leaf temperature (an indicator of respiration) with RGB cameras that give insight into nutrient deficiencies and the early onset of plant diseases, and a whole range of other sensors throughout a greenhouse.

Conventionally, growth conditions are measured at only one location in the greenhouse. Sensors at different locations will provide farmers and greenhouse specialists additional insight into how a greenhouse functions – for example whether windows are opened and closed correctly, or whether the heating pipes are doing their job – and how plants respond to growth conditions in real time.

In this program, OnePlanet combines its expertise on high-tech sensors with a deep understanding of data-sciences, machine-learning, agriculture and food to address the complex issues that inevitably accompany radical innovation. How to combine and integrate the output of sensors located in different positions in a greenhouse, and how to link them, in real-time, with data on plant health? What kind of electronics will be durable and reliable in humid greenhouse conditions and will they need special protection? Novel sensors developed in another OnePlanet program, Emerging Sensing, will be validated in indoor farms, and linked to crop data in order to create models for improving crop health, yield and use of resources in indoor settings.

Towards an online platform

AGROS, the first research program in this innovation line, kicked-off in May 2020, funded by two Dutch Topsectors and with over 26 private partners. Cucumber plants are the first crop to be cultivated, using a smart sensor network prototype that includes measurement of greenhouse atmosphere and humidity, and thermal and hyperspectral imaging that provides pictures of individual plant health. First measurement outcomes using the sensor protoype show agreement with reference sensors. By 2026, the data collected will be integrated into an online platform that allows autonomous control of greenhouse climate and fertigation.

How to warn people at an early stage that they have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s? Or that the disease is progressing? And how can we then optimally support them in their daily lives, so that they gain more control over the course of their disease? In the ICAI lab AI for Risk Profiling and Decision Support (AI-RONDO) researchers use artificial intelligence to enable early detection and personalized feedback.

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s cannot (yet) be cured, but it is possible to optimize the daily functioning of people with these conditions. By taking preventive measures at an early stage and slowing down the process. To make this possible, Radboud University, Radboudumc and imec in OnePlanet Research Center, together with industry and societal institutions, are joining forces in the ICAI lab AI-RONDO, focusing on two pillars:

  • Mapping the risks of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage (risk profiling)
  • Providing additional and personalized support to people who have the diseases (decision support)

Risk profiling

There is already a lot of data on patients suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. By using AI algorithms and models on this information, new links can be found and for example groups facing an increased risk of developing complications can be pinpointed. Using these enriched data it is possible, following diagnosis, to prescribe treatment for a patient specifically designed for their personal risk profile. The signs – such as speaking more softly, articulating less clearly, a change in walking patterns or heart rate – that indicate that something is going wrong, can be analyzed. On the basis of a sign like this, a care provider can prevent further deterioration.

Decision support

AI-RONDO will use digital tools to collect data in the home situation and to provide the patient with personalized feedback. For example an app linked to a bracelet that provides an analysis of how symptoms changed over the course of the day, linked to the taking of medication. Or an avatar, a virtual assistant that engages in conversation with the patient while simultaneously collecting new data on the progression of the disease from their speech. This extra support – in addition to regular care – offers patients more information on and a greater understanding of their own health. This means they have greater control and are able to delay the disease’s progress themselves.

A real-life digital measurement and monitoring platform for the (mental) well-being of citizens and special risk groups. That’s what Noldus, Ivido and OnePlanet Research Center will develop in this EFRO funded project.

Physiological measurements, like heart rate and heart rate variability, can provide insights in peoples (mental) health. These insights allow us to do early risk assessments and lifestyle and behavioral interventions. Nowadays, these measurements are mostly performed in lab environments with dedicated tools. Data from real life environments are more relevant, but current health monitoring wearables can only provide a limited amount of information. Therefore, Noldus, Ivido and OnePlanet will further develop the Chill+, a (mental) health monitoring wearable, and perform these real-life digital measurements.

Towards prevention

Also, the research team will build a software platform for analysis of both raw and processed physiological data. Ultimately, a personalized health dashboard will be developed for visualization of the data from the Chillband+. This platform provides insight in risk factors, efficiency of behavioral interventions and optimization of mental health and well-being. Data from the platform will become available for patients, healthy people, health care professionals and researchers. Taken together this should aid the healthcare transition towards remote healthcare and personal preventive health.

This innovation is funded by EFRO: European Fund for Regional Development in the European Union.

Digitizing agriculture to improve the yield of potatoes and lowering emissions and water usage. That’s the main goal of this research project. The research team is developing new methods for below and above ground sensing and multiple techniques, like radar, x-ray, hyperspectral imaging and impedance tomography.

The project was initiated by Wageningen University and Research and NARO, the Japanese National Agriculture and Food Research Organization.

Researcher Jan Willem de Wit explains the TTADDA project in the field:

To improve lifestyle recommendations, we need to learn what works particularly for one person and what doesn’t. Since everybody has different genetics, health status, activity levels and environments. Artificial intelligence (AI) can help us here. In the ICAI Lab researchers aim to increase the quality and quantity of health, dietary and behavioral data and to develop AI algorithms and models to improve personalized lifestyle feedback.

Learn more about the Lab team and the Lab partners

What if … we can give more accurate personalized advice on diet and healthy lifestyle with help from artificial intelligence?

A smart bathroom that non-invasively and regularly measures and integrates blood pressure, hydration status and other health biomarkers to provide people with personalized feedback, is the exciting goal of Smart Bathroom for Health. The technology can serve as a research platform to collect objective health data at home and contribute to new (dietary) interventions and early detection of diseases.

What if… we could detect early markers of disease and develop personalized nutrition, lifestyle and medical interventions, without the need for hospital visits and time-consuming, often uncomfortable, manual measurements of bodily functions?

Measuring physiological indicators such as blood pressure and hydration status multiple times a day would allow for early detection and, possibly, prevention of diseases. Variations in blood pressure and oxygen levels can be early signs of cardiovascular diseases. Urine protein levels and fecal inflammatory markers give insight into urinary and gastrointestinal health. And gradual weight loss can go unnoticed, but might point to poor nutrition.

Advanced sensors

In Smart Bathroom for Health, OnePlanet Research Center aims to develop a variety of advanced sensors for measuring health: integrated in and around the toilet, the mirror, etc. These sensors will connect to a digital platform that interprets these data, identifying trends, predicting health issues and giving personalized advice.

Experts from imec, a specialist in high-tech sensors and wearables, are collaborating closely with nutritionists and doctors from Wageningen University & Research, Radboud University and Radboudumc, to overcome the practical and technological challenges anticipated with such a disruptive innovation. They must, for example, select those biomarkers that are most reliable and representative for health. The technology should need minimal power, and be moisture-resistant.

Fundamental to the OnePlanet vision is to ensure what is developed makes a clear and measurable difference in real life. That’s why food, pharma and technology companies are invited to join the innovation process.

Towards personalized feedback

In 2019, the first prototype of a smart toilet – it measured an individual’s physiology – was tested among visitors to the Lowlands event in Biddinghuizen, the Netherlands. A second, optimized, prototype will be tested in Summer 2021, in volunteer’s homes. The next step will be to expand the system, adding sensors to measure hydration status and fecal markers of inflammation, as well as software and artificial intelligence solutions that allow for the generation of personalized feedback.

Citizen nutrition is a large personalized nutritional study in Gelderland, where new measurement techniques are being used and new behavioral intervention / models can be tested. The collected data enables the development of precision nutritional models and targeted personalized feedback.

The goal of this innovation trajectory is to set up a participatory study in which new measurement techniques, behavioral models and the development of precise nutritional models come together.

The goal is to create insights on effective interventions for person-oriented eating-behavior guidance, the development of associated employable technology and develop contributions to health interventions in personal living environments.

Non-invasive methods to measure the condition of plants is one of the highly-anticipated outcomes of Emerging Sensing. These techniques will provide equipment builders, technology providers and the fruit and vegetable sector with new tools to increase yields, improve quality and reduce waste.

Suppose we could see right ‘through’ a plant: discerning the presence of diseases, the ripeness of fruit and many other properties that are currently hidden to the naked eye. This would enable farmers to optimize the health of their plants, making much better decisions about when to harvest and when to transport produce to market. It would also facilitate the development of advanced picking robots, reducing the need for the increasingly scarce, specialized personnel in this sector.

Innovative spectral imaging

In Emerging Sensing, OnePlanet Research Center is working on innovative acoustic and spectral imaging techniques that make visible what is hidden under the skin of the plant and its fruits; techniques that allow one to see ‘through’ fruits and ‘sense’ from a distance. While existing hyperspectral cameras can already detect invisible bruises under the skin of apples and pears, complementary sensing modalities are being investigated for the non-destructive and robust detection of moisture content, fruit ripeness and firmness. OnePlanet is also working on early pest detection tools, combining spectral imaging with systems that register the presence of insect DNA and pheromones in a data fusion approach.

In this program, OnePlanet combines its expertise on high-tech sensors and wearables with a deep understanding of data-sciences, machine-learning, crop cultivation and post-harvest quality, to answer challenging questions. What are, for example, the possibilities and limitations of existing imaging techniques, in the context of which types of fruits and vegetables? Are specific spectra more suited to food quality assessment?

Towards a demo system

In 2020 three research projects kicked off: the public-private partnership, Future Sensors, which focuses on sensors for tomatoes and their plants; the European program Haly-ID, dedicated to apples and pears; and the Public-Private Partnership ‘Weet wat er leeft’ (Know what’s going on) which focuses on automatic identification and quantification of insects in greenhouses. A measuring-system proof-of-concept will be ready by the end of 2021. Once validated, it will be extended with applications that integrate sensor data, and predict the quality and shelf life of fresh produce. A demo system is expected by 2024.

Less greenhouse gas emissions and improvement of animal welfare. That is what OnePlanet Research Center is researching in this process, in specially established “AgriFood Validation Labs”.

OnePlanet develops new digital concepts for sustainable livestock farming together with network partners and educational institutions. With special attention to animal-friendly and sustainable production of animal proteins and products.

OnePlanet Research Center is working on quantifying the impact of agricultural activity on the environment and nature, by means of fine-meshed sensor networks.

Whether it concerns nitrogen in the air or nitrate in the surface water, all attention is focused on the correct values. But how do you measure them? OnePlanet Research Center develops new technologies that enable accurate and long-lasting on-site measurements, suitable for different end users.

OnePlanet develops fine-mesh sensor networks to measure air quality. Including digital environment for data access. This technology provides insight into local emissions.

In order to be able to measure substances such as nitrate in surface water, OnePlanet is developing a handheld nitrate sensor with partners. This sensor enables farmers to carry out nitrate measurements themselves. For example, they can detect nitrate leaks into surface water.

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