An Interview with Dr José Manuel Andrade, University of Derby

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1. Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m an academic and R&D engineer interested in the development and application of advanced control and estimation techniques to challenging engineering problems. At the moment, I’m a senior lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the Department of Electronics, Mathematics and Computing of the College of Engineering and Technology of the University of Derby. My background is in electrical engineering and control systems engineering. During my professional career, I have had the opportunity to work in academia and different industry sectors which has given me an experienced perspective when generating solutions to engineering problems.

2. What attracted you to take part in the Panasonic Grid EYE Lab Test?

There were several aspects that attracted my attention to the Panasonic Grid-EYE. From a technical point of view, it was twofold. On the one hand, the potential of using the Panasonic Grid-EYE evaluation kit within the IoT, due to its capability to connect to a PC, a mobile device such as smart phone or tablet, or an Arduino development board. Furthermore, the Grid-EYE development kit may monitor moving and motionless objects as well as measure temperature and generate thermal images. On the other hand, after reading the specs and some documentation on the Panasonic Grid-EYE infrared sensor and the development kit, I found the Grid-EYE to be suitable for monitoring temperature within a Smart Farming context.

3. Tell us a bit about your project.

Food security and water conservation are arguably two of the biggest challenges presently faced by humankind. It is not a secret that the Earth will become more crowded in the coming years. As a matter of fact, the current Earth’s population has been estimated at 7.4 billion people and it is projected to reach 9.7 people by 2050. In order to keep pace, food production must increase accordingly. This also has an implication on how water is used for irrigating agricultural fields since 87% of the world’s fresh water is consumed for irrigation and 33% of produced food uses irrigation. In consequence, the increasing food demand and water scarcity landscape ahead require innovative monitoring and control algorithms as well as cutting-edge technology to improve the use of water in agriculture in an efficient and sustainable manner. In this respect, the monitoring of hydric stress along with the measurement of soil characteristics such as soil moisture, pH, soil NO3, soil temperature and weather conditions to name a few, are needed within the irrigation control system and crop management. Smart farming, also known as precision agriculture, aims to optimise the yield per unit of farming land by using innovative technological elements in the form of hardware and software components.

There is research evidence that leaf temperature may provide relevant physiological information such as transpiration, hydric stress and disease conditions that can be used for both monitoring and control purposes. By monitoring the leaf temperature along with other soil and weather variables, the irrigation system is expected to be more efficient since only the needed amount of water will be used. Furthermore, the impact of diseases on agricultural production can be controlled, and hence reduced if the health condition of crops is monitored appropriately and the corresponding actions are taken on time. This can also be translated into an expected reduction of the use of pesticides. In this sense, the Panasonic Grid-EYE sensor and development kit can be used for thermal infra-red monitoring of leaf temperature. The initial phase of the project corresponds to the deployment of a data acquisition system involving the Panasonic Grid-EYE and a LabVIEW-based software application. Then, the next step is to provide the system with some sort on intelligence by implementing different monitoring, estimation, and control algorithms. The entire project also seeks to illustrate the application of the IoT in agriculture.

4. How did you come up with the idea for this project?

My interest in applying technology to agriculture came up after visiting a big farm in Mexico within the context of a Newton Fund workshop supported by the British Council (UK) and CONACyT (Mexico). I was fascinated with a presentation by a biologist on pest control because my mind was functioning as some sort of transducer by converting the biological concepts into the control system engineering notions I’m more familiar with due to my engineering background. A few weeks later, I was at CERN in Switzerland during a two-week visit taking part on a software tool training course and working with colleagues of the ALICE control system group, and then a Mexican colleague contacted me to know whether I’d be interested in joining their working group on the occasion of another Newton Fund call. One of the fields of interest for the call was Agri-Tech, and hence I started spending a good number of night hours in my hotel room carrying out some research on the application of technology to agriculture. I got very worried about the statistics I found, and hence I ended up proposing a Smart Farming project that aims to acquire field and atmospheric data, and then process this information in order to make the farming operations more efficient as well as to consider the deployment of a system for crop yield forecasting. My Thermal infrared monitoring project proposal using the Panasonic Grid-EYE was clearly aligned with the Smart Farming Project. I’d like to point out that when the Grid-EYE related project was proposed, the Smart Farming project had not been funded. Nevertheless, I can now say that a Newton Fund Grant has been awarded by the British Council and the project started at the beginning of April 2017.

5. Have you started your project with your students? If so how has the project been received?

In addition to the technical reasons that attracted my attention to the Panasonic Grid-EYE, I could see the potential of getting some students involved in a project using cutting-edge technology that would allow them to learn about electrical and electronic engineering. I invited four students (two students from the University of Derby and two students from the Polytech Clermont-Ferrand in France) to participate in the project and they were very motivated because of the opportunity to acquire work experience within a real-world problem. The French students will join me on May 2nd for a three-month internship.

6. How has the university received your participation in the Lab Test?

My colleagues at the University of Derby were pleased with my participation in the Lab Test because it gives the opportunity to some students to use cutting-edge technology and contribute to their learning experience; the University of Derby acquires visibility in terms of research and development; and the Lab Test offers opportunities to establish and strengthen links with industry.

7. What features and functionalities of the Grid-EYE kit make it suitable for your project?

The Panasonic Grid-EYE infrared sensor and development kit allows for thermal monitoring of leaf temperature by measuring the infrared radiation emitted by crops in a non-intrusive manner. This is crucial because we do not want to damage the leaves and affect the crops. An abnormal thermal distribution can be an indication of hydric stress and/or a disease condition in crops whose opportune treatment is expected to have a positive impact on agriculture.

The Panasonic Grid-EYE is the smallest thermal imaging solution, which is an important feature for IoT applications. Another important aspect is that the Panasonic Grid-EYE development kit allows for two modes of operation: standalone with a USB interface for PC connection and Bluetooth interface for communication with a mobile device such as a Smartphone or a tablet; and Arduino mode in which the sampled data by the Grid-EYE sensor is transmitted to the Arduino Due mother board through the I2C interface and then the data may be transmitted to a PC via USB or a mobile device via Bluetooth. In this regard, a farmer could use a tablet with a Smart Farming App on for crop monitoring.

AMG8834EK

The Grid-EYE Infrared Array Sensor Evaluation Kit is a dual purpose Evaluation board with Independent and Arduino modes

8. How does the project fit in with you wider teaching goals?

At the University of Derby, we aim to inform our teaching by our research and projects with industry. In my particular case, I can use the project as a case study within my “Control and Instrumentation” module which is a second-year module, and “Industrial Control” which is a third-year module of our BSc and BEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering programmes. Students get motivated when real-world problems and solutions are presented and discussed during the lectures, tutorials, and lab sessions, as they can see the application of theory.

9. What are the biggest challenges facing educators in engineering at the moment?

Although we may point out several challenges in engineering education, I’ll refer to one that in my opinion is critical. A big challenge is the reduction of the gap between academia and industry by getting academics, students, and industrialists working together in real word projects as part of the engineering programmes. In other words, professional practice must be part of the engineering education rather than involving knowledge transfer only. There is evidence that this is feasible but is not common practice. In the same way that medicine students and their physician professors deal with real medical problems in hospitals around the world, engineering students and their engineering lecturers and professors should be tackling real engineering problems.

 

10. How important are collaborations with manufacturers or third parties such as Panasonic to achieving your teaching goals?

In my opinion, collaboration with manufacturers and industrialists is crucial for educating tomorrow’s engineers today. Firstly, this kind of collaboration can give access to cutting-edge technology in the form of components, devices, equipment, and/or software tools. We can use these to illustrate electrical and electronic engineering concepts as well as important aspects of engineering design, such as assessment of technical specifications and selection of components and devices. Another important asset that results from this type of collaboration is the access to up-to-date technical information and case studies that we can bring in to our lecture theatres, classrooms and labs. Last but not least, an aspect that we should try to develop and promote even more is the integration of academics and students within working teams with manufacturer and industrialist representatives for addressing the real-world problems they have. I do think that this would motivate and prepare our engineering students for their professional careers. In this regard, manufacturers and industrialists may contribute towards an engineering education paradigm that is structured around professional practice without depriving students of analytical skills and knowledge of the engineering sciences. One of my personal and professional objectives is to establish links with manufacturers and industrialists in order to inform my academic activities and get involved in real-world engineering projects. This is one of the reasons why I was so interested in getting involved in the Panasonic Grid-EYE Lab Test.

11. Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Besides the Smart Farming project that I already referred to, which is linked to the thermal infrared monitoring project using the Panasonic Grid-EYE development kit, I have other R&D projects. For instance, one of the projects that I’m working on corresponds to the deployment of a fault detection and diagnosis (FDD) system for a sensor network, on which an artificial fault injector allows different artificial faults to be inserted for validation and verification of the FDD system. This prototype platform is particularly useful because it will allow me to explore different data-driven FDD algorithms.