Can AI save £205m of waste?

The bakery industry wastes a staggering £205m worth of product a year. But using Artificial Intelligence (AI), food scientists at RedBlack Software and research association Campden BRI hope to half this figure.

The team have been government funded to the tune of £77,000  for the project, “to create a machine that will take the guesswork out of baking”.

The ‘Intelligent Dough Maker Project‘, is expected to run until early October, after which it will be piloted in-stores by a number of unnamed major British retailers.

Jane Tyler, managing director of RedBlack Software, says because traditionally every loaf is different, there is an element of unpredictability, and therefore waste: “Even slightly differing flour qualities have a big effect on the end product – because of this bakers throw away considerable amounts of dough before it is ever baked.”

At present, 80% of the UK’s bread is made by automated machinery, but numerous variables (such as weather) can affect the end result. Powered by AI, it is hoped the new machine will help bakers refine their recipes and make adjustments accordingly, to reduce the unpredictability.

How does it do it?

Using data gathered from sensors in the bakery, AI can reveal everything from the air humidity to the speed settings on the mixer. This data is then processed by the robot to predict what is required to produce the perfect dough.

Tyler, who says humans will still play a role in the process, says: “Technology can take over monotonous tasks or iron out the guesswork with superior data analysis, but I think baking will always be very hands-on and people-based.

“It’s an ancient, creative craft that mixes art with science and while technology can help with many aspects of the science, production and business, the art and creativity is definitely best left to humans.”

AI should think so too…

  • M&S uses AI to help staff forecast what they should be baking and when to meet customer demand.
  • 150 year-old Dublin-based Bretzel Bakery has also started using AI to control the quality of its dough and manage its kitchen, by adjusting room temperature and humidity.