May 2022

Switzerland’s got talent: Meet Prof. Josie Hughes from CREATE Lab at EPFL

Robotics and AI offer huge potential to drive innovation, from agriculture to sustainable consumption. EPFL’s CREATE Lab is eager to  collaborate with industry partners to change how we design and use robots. We caught up with Prof. Josie Hughes to find out more about the expertise that her team can offer.

How can your work at CREATE LAB support food system innovation?

Making food production more efficient, nutritious and environmentally conscious is a global problem. But robotics and AI can help us to innovate and think outside the box. In the CREATE lab, we don’t just want to scratch the surface. We want to deep dive into how the tools available to us can help us to fundamentally rethink the way food systems work.

This is not only about designing and creating more capable robots but also enabling robots to perform large-scale physical experiments to design or optimize processes such as food development or agricultural practices. The applications are limitless. Robots can automatically optimize or discover new recipes by helping us better understand human taste, optimize the growing conditions for certain plants or harvest plants in challenging terrain.

One of our PhD students is currently working on training harvesting robots to feel and see raspberries to reduce the amount of soft fruit loss during harvesting. You can see the machine in action in the video below.  

On a personal level, which issues would you be particularly interested in tackling?

The amount of waste that our food systems currently create really frustrates me. But this also seems to be an issue that both consumers and industry can tackle in the short term and could have a really significant impact if we get it right. As consumers we need to change our habits and accept blemished or non-perfect fresh food. Reusable packaging is also a hugely promising area. I believe that greater collaboration is important here. Over the last few months, we’ve been working on a really exciting project with Nestlé in this space. More news will follow soon!

How could SFNV members and the wider Swiss food ecosystem engage with the CREATE Lab? 

Reach out to my colleagues at the EPFL Integrative Food and Nutrition Center. The IFNC’s team acts as an interface between EPFL researchers and the outside world, mostly food industry players. Collaborations always start with a scientific question. Contact Christian Schwab, the Center’s Executive Director, to find out more. 

Interested in the future of farming?

Join the Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley ecosystem and be partof the journey!