UT team presents at Shell Ideas360 Competition

Tinu Thomas

While most college students spend their summer vacation relaxing, UT students Arjun Menta, Logan Hageman and Uksang Yoo spent the past week in London presenting their project, the “LV FruitFly System,” at the 2018 Shell Ideas360 competition.

The team made it to the final round of competition with their concept of a “Smart Cable-Suspended Robotic Orchard Harvesting Solution,” which could potentially reduce the mass excess of water and energy required to produce fruit. While they didn’t take away the top prize, Hageman said the experience was both inspiring and eye-opening in regard to their future projects and endeavors. 

“It was a really cool chance to see how people from all across the world and different universities approach issues,” said Hageman, a chemical engineering and government senior. 

Every year, the Shell Ideas360 competition selects a handful of students who apply from universities across the globe to fly to London and pitch one concept addressing the conservation of the Earth’s food, water and energy. 

Yoo, a mechanical engineering junior, said when the team heard of the competition, they wanted to consider an issue with a broad impact, and food immediately came to mind. After researching the subject, the team decided they wanted to focus on fruit harvesting by creating an idea for a product that would help produce food efficiently while simultaneously addressing food, water and energy conservation.

The result was the LV FruitFly, a device which hovers over fields with the help of suspended cables to eliminate the extra space required by human walkways or other machines that might pick fruit. Using Yoo’s research in soft robotics, the team discovered they could create soft, hand-like machinery to pick fruit with virtually no damage, just like a real human hand could.  

The idea to suspend the device so it wouldn’t need designated space on the field was inspired by the skycams Yoo saw during UT football games. 

“As a mechanical engineer, we’re taught to learn about mechanical systems around us,” Yoo said. “One of the things I noticed was that when you go to UT football games, you see wires coming out of the four corners of the field and you see the camera moving around.”

The team submitted their idea to the competition and made it past two rounds. They were professionally assisted in the development of their idea prior to receiving an invitation to pitch their presentation at the final round in London.

Despite their loss in the final round of competition, Yoo said the team gained some valuable advice from the Shell experts and judges.

“There was a (judge) from Peru, and she had concerns that farmers in Peru wouldn’t be able to afford the device,” Yoo said. “That was a difficult question for us because we largely focused on American farmers and Western farmers.”

While they plan to place their aerial farming system on the back burner for the time being, Menta said the trio will likely continue focus on other projects, finishing school and making plans to put their ideas into action.