A range of speakers delivered talks on the futuristic developments in 'agritech' and saw North East-developed robotics in action.
International executives in the food and agricultural sector descended on Tyneside last week to see first hand cutting edge packing robots created by a North East innovator.
Wootzano staged a showcase of its Avarai robotics system which can delicately pack soft fruit and vegetables without damaging them. The system is being touted as a ground breaking piece of tech for food producers facing labour shortages.
The County Durham firm's 'Nova' event at Newcastle's Biscuit Factory drew international speakers and delegates who heard from the technological mastermind behind Wootzano's robots, founder Dr Atif Syed. He gave a presentation on the firm's journey of electronic skin manufacturing, tracing its successful application in previous robotic ventures, and on to its current application in Avarai - a system referred to as a proprietary post-harvest system.
Attendees saw live demonstrations of the technology, which gives dexterous robotic arms greater sensory awareness needed for the careful packing of produce such as tomatoes and grapes. The system, which helped Dr Ayed win a coveted Princess Royal Silver Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, has been developed to boost productivity, sustainability and efficiency in agriculture.
Among guest speakers at the event were Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium, whose talk "Navigate the furrows: current UK horticultural industry challenges and the dawn of technology solutions" looked at the current state of the sector and some of the futuristic changes already underway.
Additionally, Paul Wealls of Intel Geti talked about "the magnificent symphony: the harmonious convergence of team collaboration and AI computer vision mastery" - a look at how technology is enabling robots to visually understand their surroundings.
Also in attendance were Wootzano partners from the US - where the North East firm is working adoption of its tech among food producers. Sherry Neil and Tiffany Louk of Fresno County Economic Development Corporation talked about California as being "ripe for agtech innovation and foreign investment" with some of the world's most productive agricultural land.
Josh Lee, vice president of Fowler-based Packline Technology Inc, delivered a presentation about his company's experience in developing technologies to address workforce shortages, productivity requirements, climate change, and profit margins.
Earlier this year, Wootzano announced a partnership with Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership which supports new businesses with site selection, had helped it secure work with a Californian business. The firm said the move is part of its global expansion ambitions, marking a milestone in its growth since its launch just five years ago.
Wootzano is also participating in the £9m 'Agri-OpenCore' project, part of DEFRA’s Farming Innovation Programme, which aims to provide solutions to the UK's labour shortages in horticulture. At the moment there is no robotic harvesting system that can match the speed of human picking but learnings from the Avarai packing system are being applied to the challenge.