When you hear the term ‘smart cities’ you may initially picture the utopian metropolises of your favourite sci-fi epic. However, smart cities are much further from fiction and much closer to reality than meets the eye, albeit far less glamorous and without the flying cars - not yet at least!
One place in which ‘smart city’ technologies are changing the way we live and work is the food and drink distribution networks we rely on every day. From field to fork, smart, connected technologies are improving crop yields, reducing food wastage, and facilitating the way we shop, cook, and share meals with friends.
Internet of things
A dominant enabling technology for these smart city solutions is the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) ecosystem and the devices that exist in it.
IoT devices are capable of collecting, analysing, and transmitting data in real-time, facilitating informed decisions based on the information they provide.
Some of the common IoT devices used for smart city applications include smart meters for measuring utilities usage and smart cameras for monitoring traffic flow. With a forecast by the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimating 55.7 billion connected IoT devices, generating almost 80 billion Zettabytes (that’s 8x1025 Megabytes) of data by 2025, we can expect to see even more innovative applications in the future making our cities smarter and more sustainable.
With these impressive capabilities and efficiency statistics, smart city technology has the potential to revolutionize the food and drink industry, by leveraging real-time monitoring and decision-making to enable better resource management and sustainable practices across the industry. The adage ‘work smarter, not harder’ has never been more appropriate, nor indeed more essential to forging a path to a sustainable future.
Real time, real results
Some of the most rapidly evolving internet of things applications are in food supply chains that feed our cities, where IoT sensors can monitor temperature, humidity, and other factors that preserve food quality and safety during transport and storage, reducing food waste and improving the quality of the produce that reaches our tables.
With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projecting that global agriculture production will need to rise 69% between 2010 and 2050 to account for population growth, it is clear that smart supply chains will play a vital role in enabling efficient and sustainable growth.
Traditional industries, new ideas
With all this potential for technology to further optimise our production and distribution networks, innovation is coming thick and fast, and not necessarily from those innovators with traditional expertise in the food supply chain.
After supplying strawberries for Wimbledon for almost 30 years, Hugh Lowe Farms has teamed up with Vodafone to develop smart food supply solutions. This collaboration has brought together soft fruit farming knowledge with the 5G capabilities of our mobile networks to deliver the freshest crop of berries in time for the biggest tennis tournament of the summer.
In another innovative partnership, 80 Acres Farms, a vertical farming specialist with R&D facilities in Arkansas and the Netherlands, has teamed up with Siemens to scale up their sustainable intensive farming practices. With food miles a key component of the sustainable consumption conversation as we transition towards a more sustainable food supply system, 80 Acres is using smart technologies to shorten the supply chain by growing more of what we eat closer to our tables.
New partnerships are also being forged in one of the world’s oldest industries by pairing traditional knowledge with high-tech, connected tools.
Hyperspectral cameras, such as those from Hinalea Imaging, can capture detailed images that allow goods inspections which reveal more than even the most experienced professional eye could see. Originally developed for identifying minerals in the mining and oil industries, hyperspectral scanning technologies are increasingly being used to scan food and drink products to identify contamination, spoilage, and physical damage that would be otherwise invisible to even the most experienced professionals working in the supply chain.
And if some of the developments in the food supply chain over the past century have served to make us feel further from the source of our food, smart technologies can help to reverse that trend.
Smart tags, often in the form of a simple QR code printed on the product packaging, can provide consumers with more knowledge about where food came from and what was used in its production. Studies have shown that consumers value information about the food that reaches their tables and with smart tagging technologies and enhanced data capture throughout the food production and supply chain, consumers can now gain more insights into ingredients, food provenance and real-time freshness than they ever could before.
Growth in the business of growing
Growth in smart city technology has resulted in a new wealth of collaboration between the technology and food supply chain industries leading to a surge in technological advancements and related patent filings in Europe and further afield. Just last month, the European Patent Office ran a lecture series directed to smart agriculture: “Tackling the future – Smart Agriculture”, which aimed to offer a deeper understanding of the IP space to researchers, industrial professionals, and public sector experts in this field.
Add to this the explosion in AI-assisted technologies, blockchain and the focus on targeted, environmentally friendly active ingredients designed to increase the shelf life of products, and the food and drink IP space is becoming an increasingly diverse, multi-disciplinary technical environment.
Over the coming months, we will be taking a deeper dive into the challenges and opportunities in the IP world for some of these new enabling technologies, starting with the use of blockchain technologies in our food and drink supply networks. Until then!
At Kilburn and Strode, our technology team has extensive experience in the smart city/IoT sector and is well-equipped to provide tailored support for your business's intellectual property needs. Our team of experts can work with you to develop an intellectual property strategy that maximizes the value of your patents and helps protect your innovative ideas. We understand the unique challenges and opportunities of the smart city space, and are committed to providing the highest quality of service and support. Please get in touch to discuss how we can help your business succeed in this dynamic and rapidly evolving sector.
If you have any questions, please do reach out to Nathan, Barbara, or your usual Kilburn & Strode advisor.