Interview – Prof. Josie Hughes

The research objective of the CREATE Lab (Computational Robot Design & Fabrication Lab) at EPFL is to change how we design and use robots.  This is by both designing and fabricating more capable robots – focusing mostly on manipulation – and also using robots to perform large-scale physical experiments to design or optimize processes such as food development or agricultural practises.  This could be, for example, to use a robot to automatically optimize or discover new recipes, to understand human taste, optimize the growing conditions for certain plants, or even harvest plants in challenging terrain.

Making food production more efficient, nutritious and environmentally concious is a global problem, and robotics and AI have the potential to make a significant contribution to this.  This makes working in food and agriculture a very exciting area as we can identify new and exciting ways in which robotics and AI can contribute.  To solve the problems facing the food industry we need to think outside the box and identify new ways in which we can deploy the robotic and optimization tools we develop.  In the CREATE lab we seek to identify the areas in which our tools can make the most impact on the highly complex food systems, and consider not only solving the most immediate surface properties, but also rethink or fundamentally change food systems. 

To know a bit more about you…

  • What is your best culinary memory?

My best culinary memory is being taught my grandfather how to make his famous shortbread!  I’m not a natural baker so this required quite some patience.

On a serious note, we all know that food systems are under pressure…

  • As a consumer, is there any particular point that stands out to you in the current food systems?

One thing that frustrates me with current food systems is the amount of waste – both in terms of packaging and also food waste.  This seems to be something that both consumers and industry can change in the short term and could have a significant impact on food systems.  As consumers we need to change our habits such that we are happy with blemished or non-perfect fresh food to limit the waste in food systems, and also re-use or bring our own packaging/storages.  Secondly, industry could reduce unnecessary packaging that is provided with many items. There has already been significant progress made in this area however it seems an issue that consumers and industry could work together to address today!