Press Release

Day: 19 December 2023

Think about it, if you're having lunch


Whenever you get hungry, you get up and open the fridge - worst case scenario, you order food through the app - that's all you have to worry about. But behind every bite is a much longer chain that starts months before your lunch and certainly doesn't end with throwing leftovers in the trash. How can we help agriculture operate more sustainably, more organically and provide people with the best possible nutrition? These are not the only questions that scientists from BUT, artists and, last but not least, artificial intelligence are asking together in the Hungry EcoCities project. 

How to simply describe an unconventional combination of disciplines with perhaps not entirely tangible outcomes? Perhaps as a debate about the future of innovative agriculture, thanks to the opinion of people who think about different topics and in different ways. The aim is to bring together even seemingly crazy ideas that can take food production, distribution and consumption to a new level. The idea of vertical gardens first appeared only twenty years ago and today tomatoes grown in hanging pots in sheds without natural light are common even in the Czech Republic. So why not try letting your imagination run wild?


We do not have to immediately put issues such as hunger in the poorer countries of the world on the other side of our comfortable lives, but also land degradation, the destruction of biodiversity, the loss of nutritious food, or civilisational diseases such as obesity. Where does Brno technology come into this? "We are coordinating the project and we are also cooperating with KU Leuven. Both teams are working on artificial intelligence, they perhaps more on the ethics of using big language models, we are working on the explainability of AI decisions and sensor data processing, for example. They can, for example, monitor individual beds and plants or measure the amount of water in the soil and things like that," says Pavel Smrž from the Faculty of Information Technology at the BUT. He works at the Institute of Computer Graphics and Multimedia.

The question arises as to how he perceives the connection between science and a very distinctive art with a focus on agriculture. "The European project we are coordinating is terribly rewarding. In other projects, we meet mostly technical experts who are working in related fields and think like us. What makes Eco HungryCities special is that we have been able to invite world-class art studios and people who make a difference in art and architecture to the consortium." Smrž alludes to the fact that, in addition to universities and interest groups, renowned design and architecture studios such as Carlo Ratti Associati, who are behind the design of the Italian pavilion at the Dubai EXPO, Berlin-based Studio Other Spaces, and Dutch architectural historians Stephan Petermann and Rem Koolhaas have been involved.


Consortium meeting, September 2022

We are looking for artists/technicians/data analysts

However, all of the above mentioned, together with Mendel University, are not the only participants in the project. An important role is played by artists from all over Europe who submit their ideas to the project. "The first call is already over and it was very successful, there was a lot of interest. We had a strict limitation, only the relevant applicants applied, but there were still more than sixty applicants," says Pavel Smrž, satisfied with the level. One of the conditions was that the artists had to deal with the technological component of the idea and work with data. 

"The selected art projects focus on sustainable use of local raw materials and on improving people's diets, improving the whole process from growing to distribution and sales," Smrž explains, while showing me the presentation of the resulting ten selected artists. 

Plants under stress and a low-carbon cookbook

For example, an idea called Acoustic Agriculture is dedicated to measuring the impact of city sounds on plant growth. Another participant is investigating the symbiosis of plant roots with fungi in the soil and its possible use to enhance plant resilience. The authors of the Future Protein project want to be able to calculate the maximum yield when growing mussels and at the same time suggest other uses for mussels, for example. Another interesting topic is the Symbiosis.AI project, which wants to record plant stress using sensors, understand it and ideally be able to turn it into a positive outcome.

But more artistic ideas have also succeeded, such as a low-carbon cookbook that takes into account ingredients available at home, an engaging AI-generated documentary on food logistics, or a project to map different cultural customs around food and design new utensils and other tools.

Don't just stay on paper

"The projects are now going through what's called a residency, which means the artists spend time with the art studios. Some studios prefer short-term visits, others longer stays. The residency lasts nine months and artists are paid during that time. The allowance also covers their travel and living expenses and the materials they need," explains Pavel Smrž, explaining that the competition did not end with the announcement of the winning proposals. In addition, each of the selected artists received money just to try to turn their idea into reality.

And it is not only universities and professional studies that help, but also modern technology. AI - artificial intelligence - is a thread running through the entire project. Today, we think of it as a chatbot that we ask what to wear in a given weather or have generate profile pictures for social networks. But for scientists, artificial intelligence is something they have been working with for a long time, albeit perhaps under the term machine learning. Pavel Smrž points out another modern aspect of art and research projects: 'All, or at least most, of the results should be available as open data, we try to make as much as possible available with a Creative Commons license. We don't want it to end up with us showing the projects, but we want them to be available and to build on the projects from the second call."

Drones and harvesters

The next round of the Hungry EcoCities project will go one step further, this time inviting smaller and medium-sized agricultural entrepreneurs themselves. "We already have some first applicants with drones, we have artists who would like to work in satellite tracking and design landscape development in countries like the Netherlands. There, they rightly feel threatened by climate change, because most of the country is below sea level," says Pavel Smrž, the project coordinator, looking ahead to the future.

In the second phase of the competition, planned for 2024 and 2025, 10 more winners are to be selected. This time, the projects should be more tangible, ideally culminating in the creation and validation of prototypes of new technologies. But the idea is still the same - to get people to think for a moment about what we take for granted, yet is a huge and enjoyable part of our lives. Enjoy.

Author: Horná Petra, Mgr.

Last modified: 2024-01-12T13:39:58

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