From seed to supermarket: AI in the food and beverage industry

Artificial intelligence (AI) innovations are being applied to every aspect of the supply chain, and the food and beverage sector is no exception.

Farmers are increasingly using smart sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to collect data from their fields on a number of variables that may impact when to sow seeds, such as soil nutrient content, weed growth, and local weather conditions or microclimates. AI is being used to analyse the collected data and provide farmers with information on when to sow seeds, when and where to apply pesticides or fertilisers, and even when to harvest. Some farmers are using robotic devices to pick fruit such as strawberries and apples – the robotic devices have cameras that capture images of each fruit, and AI very quickly analyses the images of an individual fruit in real-time to determine whether the robotic device should pick that fruit or leave it to ripen further. Once the AI algorithm has been trained on enough images of ripe, underripe and overripe fruits, these autonomous fruit picking devices could outpace and potentially replace human workers.

Computer vision can be used to detect defects or perform quality control at each stage of a production line or manufacturing process. For example, when harvested fruit arrives at a factory for washing, packing and distributing to supermarkets or food producers, cameras combined with AI may be used to detect slugs, leaves or other non-fruit objects amongst the harvested crop.

AI could be used to improve efficiency and minimise disruption and downtime of a food production factory which produces multiple different food products. For example, strawberries may be used in freeze-dried form in one type of breakfast cereal, and may be chocolate-coated for another type of breakfast cereal. AI could be used to determine when to switchover machines in a factory from making one type of breakfast cereal to the other seamlessly and quickly.

Some companies may use AI to predict problems in production before they occur, to solve them more quickly, or to avoid them altogether. This could be done by using AI to analyse a  digital twin of a real-life system, to find bottlenecks, limitations and mistakes, or to identify or create better features.

Eventually, the packaged fruit or the packets of breakfast cereal arrive in a supermarket warehouse. AI algorithms may be used to optimise warehouse design, or to optimise robotic systems within warehouses that pick and place goods to fulfil supermarket online grocery orders.  Supermarkets that offer online shopping and delivery may use AI for scheduling deliveries and identifying efficient delivery routes that minimise the delivery time of perishable goods.  

These example uses of AI in the food sector are patentable. Generally speaking, in most countries around the world, it is possible to patent the use of AI models and algorithms for specific purposes, such as analysing images collected by cameras in a factory to identify defects in products, or to determine if machines are working correctly or at the expected speed.

To learn more about how we can help you to protect your AI-based inventions, and to meet our AI specialists, see our AI webpage.

Perspectives on intellectual property and the food and beverage industry can be found at here.

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