University of Melbourne’s Dookie Day 2017: The Future of Food in Technology

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Bus rides are made for silently collecting one’s thoughts or taking a good nap. But as the bus drove from Melbourne’s CBD, up north to Dookie, I had questions. Who would turn up? And for those that did, how would they react to the latest developments in technology for agriculture?

Drones for agriculture

At Dookie Day, drones were showcased for agriculture. This stemmed from the University of Melbourne’s (UoM) collaboration with XM2, pioneers in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market, to develop the Melbourne Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Platform (MUASIP). Thus, MUASIP is a platform that facilitates data capture using UAVs and the data is processed meaningfully for research and commercial applications. Think of it as the “spine” that would support the “body” of functions and capabilities.

At the moment, we have projects in precision viticulture, whereby wine growers are able to use UAVs to collect data on how grapevine canopies are affected by abiotic and biotic stressors (Baofeng et al., 2016). This would enable informed decision-making on irrigation schedules, fertiliser usage, and overall vineyard management, as inspections can be highly spatial or on a plant-by-plant basis. However, as Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, a UoM Senior Lecturer in Wine Science, highlights, “the end goal is the incorporation of technology in food security”. As such, the work on using drones in viticulture would one day be transferable to other farming systems too.

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XM2’s DJI Inspire 1 drone used in the demonstration.

For the actual demonstration, we had XM2 demonstrate their DJI Inspire 1 drone. And true to its popularity, the presence of the drone itself, it attracted both the young and old. For this demonstration, the drone was modified to capture thermal data, whereby different materials would show different temperature patterns. The application of this would, for example, enable a farmer to determine the moisture level of his or her field, thereby knowing how well irrigated it is. This is important, especially in the face of climate change, as the rapid detection of “stressed” crops between a day or 16 days (if satellite maps are used) can be the determining factor in yield and quality.

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Prep-school kids observing the drone application.

Decoding “us” the consumer

Whilst the use of drones are on the “growth” side, technology also has a place in “sensory science”. At Dookie Day, a BIOSENSORY “face reader” application was on demonstration. It was developed to decode consumer behaviour associated with unconscious responses. For example, whether you “frowned” upon tasting a piece of cheese. The “magic” of the face reader is that it captures food and taste preferences, expressed through facial expressions, which may be omitted from using, say, the traditional questionnaire (Fuentes et al., 2015). And the application is also capable of monitoring your heart-rate and body temperature.

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The BIOSENSORY application in action.

Imagine being able to quantify the actual “emotions” associated with tasting chocolate. I would buy a variety of chocolate, set myself in front of the application, and taste test the different chocolates I bought, to find “the One” that brought me the most happiness. But on a more professional note, this technology is highly valuable to food companies, such as those in the chocolate, wine, cheese, or even beer industry. The BIOSENSORY application would provide consumer insight to pinpoint where the opportunities for food companies are at.

At the end of the day

Although the existence of certain technologies in the agricultural industry is common knowledge, its mainstream adoption is a different story. The reasons may be cultural in origin, or perhaps it is because of the idea that there is “no” support system.

However, at Dookie Day, questions were asked and answers were given. Answers in the form of MUASIP, which addressed the need to have an integrated support system for the transference of UAV system know-hows. Answers in terms of the benefits of using the BIOSENSORY application that would improve testing and our understanding of ourselves as consumers. Answers in the form of people responding positively and wanting to participate in the latest developments of agriculture; from young children and students, to the “veterans” of the farming industry.

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Dr Sigfredo Fuentes being interviewed.

There will be more questions as new technologies emerge. But questions, in combination with informative and applicable answers, can become starting points for greater understanding and acceptance. And that is what Dookie Day was for.


References

Baofeng, S., Jinru, X., Chunyu, X., Yulin, F., Yuyang, S. and Fuentes, S., 2016. Digital surface model applied to unmanned aerial vehicle based photogrammetry to assess potential biotic or abiotic effects on grapevine canopies. International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, 9(6), p.119.

Fuentes, S., Torrico, D., Talbo, M., Gonzalez-Viejo, C., Moore, S., Kashima, Y. and Dunshea, F., 2015. Development of a Novel App for Sensory Analysis of Food and Beverages using Biometrics from Video and Image Analysis.

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Accounting for Taste: Radio ABC National Interview

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Click on the image to listen to ABC National.

Taste is a complex thing. How and why we respond to food involves multisensory perception and can’t easily be separated from our cultural, social and personal histories.

So, can deliciousness be measured?

Researchers today are using biometric testing to make sense of our preferences and offer insight into the conscious and unconscious processes that determine how we taste.

Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, Senior Lecturer in Wine Science in the School of Agriculture and Food at the University of Melbourne

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