But why monitor moths? As it turns out, moths are a key biodiversity indicator species. Recent studies show that insect biomass is down by 60%, a concerning trend when considering our agricultural food webs rely on the ecological services of these small but significant creatures.
For this reason, the Far Out Thinking Company set out to develop a new way to monitor how many of the 896 macro moth species they can capture on camera here in Cornwall. Traditionally, moth traps are required to be left overnight and revisited in the morning to record and release any moths gathered; whereas the Far Out Thinking Company’s moth box allows researchers to do all this remotely.
The ATI2 project has assisted the Far Out Thinking Company in a multitude of ways, from providing innovation grant funding support and direct access to academic ecologists at the University of Plymouth; to working with statisticians and our Business Innovation Advisors to help get their moth box product off the ground:
“If we didn’t have the support from ATI this would probably still be a dream on the big to-do list, it’s been really great to push the project and it’s also allowed us to unlock further funding to take certain elements a bit further,” explains Matthew Elmes, Co-Founder of the Far Out Thinking Company.
Their new moth box design operates remotely to activate a UV light and artificially intelligent camera to capture footage of the moths entering the box, this is then accessed remotely by researchers who can identify and record the moth species seen on camera.
The ATI2 project was also able to help the business to identify a market need for their moth box and has provided funding support to prototype, test and develop the working products.
“The support has enabled us to gain access and expertise into knowledge areas that we weren’t aware of, specifically with the way that the government is changing their approach to land use and the support for farmers,” adds Matthew.
By engaging with ATI2, the Far Out Thinking Company gained access to a vast network of specialist knowledge and expertise, from both the University of Plymouth and the accredited innovation practitioners that form part of our overall project’s services.
They also benefitted from the ATI2 Internship Programme, which funds 50% of an intern’s wage* and looks to place a University of Plymouth student with the academic skills needed to help with a short-term innovation project.
The programme enabled the company to facilitate 3 diverse roles during 2022, one of which led to a permanent position. Other successful project outcomes included a deep learning computer, the patent application for their new product and progress for their Artificial Intelligence (AI) pipeline, something which they hope to be able to use in time as they train the artificially intelligent camera to identify and classify different moth species.
After working collaboratively on several R&D projects with the University of Plymouth, the Far Out Thinking Company have now received an offer letter from the R&D Solutions Fund to work with Dr Lauren Ansell, Lecturer in Mathematical Sciences at the University of Plymouth, and are looking towards building insect pollinator databases and creating an app and front-end website for landowners to search for, and purchase, specific seed mixes to bring more pollinator species into an area.
“We have done a number of R&D projects with the University (of Plymouth), it has helped us gain expertise from the academics and also the business support,” says Matthew.
In the future, The Far Out Thinking Company wishes to further develop its moth box by using AI to quickly and accurately identify the moth species using image classification. With over 2,500 species of moth in the UK, adopting AI technology in this way could help significantly by speeding up the identification process and freeing up researcher’s time.
Their next steps for 2023 are to explore Innovate UK funding and expand their network of beehives and moth boxes – we are buzzing to continue supporting their plans to innovate, pollinate and grow here in Cornwall and afar.
If you would like to find out more about the moth box and our project, visit the Far Out thinking website here.
* ATI2 is able to help with the cost of this external resource by funding 50% of the intern’s wages for a 2-month placement (based on a maximum contribution of £600 per month towards a salary of £1,200 pm for the student)