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Defra identifies top 10 emerging technologies


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has identified the internet of things (IoT) and distributed ledger technologies as among those likely to be important to meeting its objectives.

They have been cited in a briefing paper, Top 10 Strategic Emerging Technologies, dated from last October but which has just been highlighted on the department blog. It covers technologies which it is already exploring and others for which it has identified a significant potential.

In an introduction to the report, Jan Murdoch of Defra said: “The top 10 technologies list is full of exciting potential solutions for Defra and a few of the emerging technologies are already being explored across the department.

“One of the key technologies is the IoT which describes the sensing, processing, and exchanging of data between groups of physical objects. IoT is important to Defra because it could revolutionise how we remotely monitor the environment, enabling us to create UK-wide real time monitoring networks combing data from rivers, land, and air – creating an accurate digital overview of our whole environment.”

The paper’s section on IoT emphasises its potential to enable remote monitoring of the environment at high scale and lower cost, including reaching places that have previously been impossible to monitor.

Other opportunities are in removing manual checking with real time tracking of the movement of things, improving operational management of flood defence assets and supporting smart and sustainable buildings.

Value in ledgers

Distributed ledger technology – of which blockchain is an example – is also identified as potentially valuable. Defra describes it as allowing transactions to have public ‘witnesses’, with the participant at each node of a network being able to access recordings shared across the network and own an identical copy.

It raises opportunities in tracking and traceability of food, waste and supply chains, market transactions, the security of IoT devices and the management of business processes such as procurement.

Another technology highlighted in the report is outdoor location intelligence, which incorporates geographic information systems, web mapping, low Earth orbit satellites and IoT. These combine to provide new insights from geospatial data and raise opportunities for Defra in policy development, marine measurement and management, outdoor environmental management and real time intelligence gathering on disaster response.

Computer vision, which involves capturing and analysing real world images and videos for machines to extract contextual information, is also highlighted. This provides potential in visual inspection management, enhancing medical diagnosis, automation of inventory and stock management, animal welfare monitoring and proactive crop and agricultural management.

The briefing also points to Defra’s interest in immersive workspaces which use virtual and augmented reality. This could support collaborative workshops and conferences, training, provide tools to reinforce culture and networking, support a new approach to data analysis in an emergency, and support field working and plant inspections.

Other technologies identified in the report are low Earth orbit satellites, chatbots and virtual assistants, autonomous drones, bots for automating processes, distributed ledger technology and digital twins.

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