Research and Innovation Focus AUGUST 2018 Tasty technology: As digital innovations continue to influence the way we lead our lives, Teagasc, the State agency providing research, advisory and education for Ireland’s agri-food industry, is leading the way in adopting and investigating how the latest technologies can advance food innovation Teagasc explores advanced food innovation has two grippers and can pick up a bottle and a spoon and mimic human actions; but doesn’t have the same subjectivity of humans.” Get inside your bread Think virtual reality is all fun and games? Teagasc is proving the technology can have much broader appeal. In another world-first, Teagasc is using virtual reality to see inside our food and examine how it looks on the inside. The technology will enable food manufacturers identify key structural components that contribute to highquality foods. It works by interpreting a 3D image stack, such as a those obtained by a CT scanner or suitable microscopes. These provide layers of images, sometimes in the thousands, that build to create a 3D image, which can then be brought to life in 4D by the virtual reality technology. Using gaming equipment, with a headset and controllers (on your hands), you can virtually grab the piece of bread, cheese, etc, stretch it, go inside it and look at the structures, holes and particles. That allows a person to understand, for example, ‘what it’s like to be inside your bread’. Dr Deirdre Kennedy, microstucture technologist, and Dr Eimear Gallagher, head of Food Quality and Sensory Science at Teagasc, explain that bread is a good match for the technology due to its large, dense structures. However, Teagasc is also using this to examine powders, cheeses and many other foodstu s. “For example, if you want to compare a gluten-free bread with a non-glutenfree bread, or a fat-filled powder versus a non-fat-filled powder. Typical microscopes look at the surface, maybe a few microns of depth, but if we can visualise complete structures in 3D, then it can become a completely immersive experience.” The research project is still new; however, Deirdre says it will have an important role to play in food-sensory research, identifying whether, for example, bread with air in it is springy or spongy. “The ultimate objective will be to compare sensory data with the physical characteristic of the food. “On the dairy powder side, we may be able to observe how particles interact with each other, over time, and how air and the environment impact their stucture. This could be a useful tool for monitoring the quality of products during storage.” Utilising imaging software to di erentiate between fat and protein is also a long-term objective for the project and will provide more applications for the dairy industry. Dr Mark Fenelon, head of Teagasc’s Food Programme, says it is a very exciting time for the food industry as adoption of the latest digital/robotic developments has the potential to deliver higher quality and more consistent products. Robot revolution In a world-first piece of research, Teagasc is using robotics to develop a platform for the measurement of the rehydration properties of powders. Teagasc has introduced a seven-axis robot that can mimic the movements that humans use to reconstitute powders, such as milk powders. The robot enables controlled rehydration of the powder consistently across batches of products, facilitating measurements free from variability due to human intervention. Cameras on the robot arms can take a digital image of unrehydrated powder particles and translate these into objective numbers for the operator to use for comparative purposes. Dr Norah O’Shea, research o cer, Teagasc, says this approach can ensure consistent product quality. “Before the product leaves the site, the robot performs the rehydration test and determines whether the product quality is optimal. It ensures that the food producer can achieve the same functional properties consistently, and that the product rehydrates in the same way each time.” The research at Teagasc will, in collaboration with scientists in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Dublin City University, use biomechanics to accurately mimic actions of people from di erent geographic areas around the world. Norah says this is a new use for robotics in the food sector, created by the development of the sevenaxis robots, which have greater maneuverability and capabilities than five or six-axis robots. “Five-axis robots just do one role, whereas our robot is multifunctional. It 22