Robots and strawberries
People all over the world are dependent on raw materials cultivated through the agricultural industry, and some say that half of the habitable land on earth is used for agriculture. For years, the topic of growing plants in a smarter and more space efficient way has been a top priority in developing new technology. As a result, vertical farming has been an ever-increasing concept, and in practice this means stacking layers of crops vertically to save space, often in a closed and controlled environment. We see a clear synergy between warehouse automation and vertical farming automaton. The “goods to man” concept in warehouse automation can be used for “plants to man” as a concept in vertical farming automation. With this in mind, we want to explore how we can combine our warehouse automation technology, goods to man concept, and our process mindset within vertical farming automation industry. This year, the students explored how to transport, scan, and pick strawberries that can be utilized in a vertical farm.
A solid foundation
Having an established relationship with NTNU, the renowned Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and being one of the partners in their innovation center, The Mine, Element Logic recruit students each year from NTNU to participate in the summer internship program. This initiative has the ambition of letting our technology and competence meet the minds of young and bright students and together create and inspire new solutions.
– Being a part of the previous internship, in 2021, I was expecting challenging, yet exiting tasks as well as a good environment where I could learn from groundbreaking technology. The overall task was very exiting – even though I did not have any explored interest in vertical farming, or plants in general, before the internship, this summer changed that. I have been introduced to a whole new field that I did not see the point of before now. It has been awarding to work with something that has such great potential for the future, says Mithila Packiyanathan one of the veteran summer interns studying a master’s degree in cybernetics and robotics at NTNU.
Tackling the 360-degree angle – from tech to business
The students started the program in June and concluded their work in August, two months later. The preparation and introduction to the task was thoroughly planned by Element Logic together with a partner. The students were introduced to plants and the technical aspect with an introduction of vertical farming and visiting an actual strawberry farmer, as well as getting insights into the business aspect of farming vertically. The students, coming from a technical background, appreciated to look at the task from different angels.
– Looking at a technical solution from a business point of view was new and different from what we are used to. Even though most of us were eager to start programming and looking at the technical solutions, I believe that understanding the task at hand, and looking at it from different angles is just as important and instructive. Understanding the customer and looking through their eyes throughout the process is a valuable mindset, says Atle Skjevdal, one of the interns.
Up for the challenge
The students faced different challenges working with the case. Even though vertical farming is an up-and-coming industry, both the students and Element Logic lacked an in-dept understanding of the concept and technology before the internship.
– It was challenging in the beginning because we lacked knowledge of the vertical farming industry. Last year, it was comfortable to use the experts in Element Logic to get inspiration and guidance, but this being a foreign industry for Element Logic as well, we did not have access to the same people this year. I found it difficult to begin with but understood that this was also a blessing as we were not limited to the ideas of others. Having an expert on vertical farming available and being able to visit a strawberry farmer was very important and helped us a lot in shaping the assignment. This combined with an introduction to how we should look at the case from a business point of view, was very rewarding and a unique experience for us as technologists, Mithila concluded.
A grand finale
At the end of the internship, the students presented their work as well as giving a demo of the solution. The audience consisted of people with a wide range of roles in Element Logic, as well as the external facilitators and experts.
– The internship gives as much as we receive. Our experience is that the students, throughout the months of working with the case, gains experience and inspiration through new knowledge and practice, whereas we gain new insight that can help us see things differently. We are very pleased with the results of the internship, and the students exceeded our expectations, even more than last year. The case was a good fit for us, the facilitators, and the students. We were dependent on good vertical farming user cases to explore, and we believe we were able to do just that, Sutharshan Nadarajah says confidently.
"The internship gives as much as we receive. Our experience is that the students, throughout the months of working with the case, gains experience and inspiration through new knowledge and practice, whereas we gain new insight that can help us see things differently. We are very pleased with the results of the internship, and the students exceeded our expectations even more than last year. The case was a good fit for us, the facilitators, and the students. We were dependent on good vertical farming user cases to explore, and we believe we were able to do just that, Sutharshan Nadarajah says confidently."
Stars as the limit
As we conclude the summer internship program for now and look towards the rest of 2022 and the future, we are excited to explore new ideas and software. If you want to stay up to date on our latest news, we recommend that you subscribe to our newsletters below.