In the last few months, we witnessed how the world and human society has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented and challenging time for us all.
At Lincoln Agritech Ltd. (LAL), the health and safety of our staff, clients, stakeholders and communities remains a priority. We have been following the advice of government and public health authorities, Lincoln University and proactively implementing a range of precautionary measures to keep everyone safe. Our staff were working from home since the 23rd of March when New Zealand escalated to alert level 4. As the country moved into level 3 and 2 some of our staff returned to the labs and field research with required PPE and strict social distancing measures in place. Now we are at Level 1 we are all back in the office.
I am proud of our staff who are dedicated and committed to their work no matter where they are. They set up home offices in the attic, sleep-out, a corner of their bedroom and for some even a workshop in their garage. The country was locked down for 75 days but we stayed connected. We met regularly on Zoom, and I have been very impressed that our productivity stayed high during this challenging time.
LAL staff set up workshop and lab at the garage
We were able to make some great progress in some of our projects during this time, for example:
- Our MBIE funded Braided Rivers programme successfully installing a horizontal sensing cable under the Selwyn River during level 3.
- A new mini robotic test rover has been constructed by LAL-staff at home during the lockdown for the MBIE funded Grape Yield Analyser project. The mini robot is used as a test bed for a larger rover that will carry canopy sensing equipment through orchards and vineyards. We have demonstrated with the mini robot that the software we developed for the larger robot is able to autonomously navigate and also build a map of its surroundings automatically.
- LAL is one of the project partners in the University of Auckland MBIE funded Human Assist (MaaraTech) project. In this work the AI-team at Lincoln Agritech has had a breakthrough in developing a novel AI-model (a ‘network’) that can derive automated pruning decisions. The preliminary results show that we can train a network to learn basic pruning rules using examples only without ever showing the network the pruning rules. This learning-by-example allows us to learn from expert pruners in situations where it is difficult or impossible to formally describe rules.
- Research scientist Dr Kim Eccleston painstakingly constructed a metamaterial lens consisting of around 1000 small and delicate pieces at his home office. The lens is a major component of MBIE funded Medical Imaging Scanner project, which is now undergoing full testing in our microwave laboratory.
- The Electromagnetics team also focused on some fundamental research questions on how to design an instrument that measures the electromagnetic signals passing through the lens. These lively discussions over Zoom have led to a clarity of the basics physics in the evanescent waves interactions with the probe and driven the science design forward.
We have pioneered a new way of engaging with one potential client via a series of Zoom meetings, and think this style of engagement has potential for other clients. We realise that you all may be working slightly differently in a post lockdown/COVID world. We are very receptive to meeting with clients over Zoom and using technology where we can. We also look forward to meeting you again in person.
We cannot predict the future but we remain agile to manage the challenging times ahead.
I read with some concern the events in other countries, from the rising death tolls, to the resistance from some citizens to lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID, and of course the ongoing economic aspects of this crisis.
I thank the citizens and residents of NZ, the team of 5 million for doing so well during the lockdown, going early, complying and thus making it short. It has given our little country the best possible chance against this pandemic. I’m always proud to be a Kiwi and am especially so at this time.
On behalf of Lincoln Agritech, I wish you, your families and friends all the very best during this period. Thank you for your continued support.
CEO at Lincoln Agritech Limited