2021 | Canada | Food Products Manufacturing | Outstanding | SDG12 | SDG13 | SDG17 | SDG2 | SDG3 | SDG9
Novel Application of Advanced Manufacturing Approaches to High Quality Protein

1. General


SDG 2: Zero Hunger

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG 13: Climate Action

SDG 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal


Food Products Manufacturing

2. Project Details

Company or Institution

Aspire Food Group & DarwinAI


Novel Application of Advanced Manufacturing Approaches to High Quality Protein

General description of the AI solution

Food scarcity remains a major global issue. The UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food production will have to double in the next 30 years. Global demand for high quality protein is growing at the same time our planet’s resources for protein production are shrinking.
Aspire Food Group is a world leader in the commercial production and processing of crickets and cricket waste (“frass”) into nutritional ingredients for people, pets and plants. Aspire has developed a proprietary, innovative process to produce exceptional protein using minimal resources, a modular and scalable production, tight supply chains and low costs to generate outsized global impact.

Aspire is building the smartest and densest cricket production facility in the world. The facility will produce 28.5 million lbs. of crickets, organic fertilizer and soil supplements by employing advanced automation, IoT-enabled data accumulation, and machine learning in a climate-controlled, indoor vertical agriculture facility.

DarwinAI was founded by a world class academics team from the University of Waterloo. Their patented explainability technology enables human-in-the-loop decision making in AI systems. DarwinAI was named to CB Insights AI100 List of Most Innovative AI Startups and their solutions are leveraged in a variety of enterprise contexts, including advanced manufacturing and industrial automation.

DarwinAI-Aspire’s deep learning solution analyzes more than 50 input parameters to unearth insights that can improve more than 15 output parameters, creating a loop that changes facility conditions to produce healthy crickets and maximize facility yields while minimizing costs (e.g., due to water, natural gas, electricity, etc.).

Results are a timely, highly efficient agricultural production that would not be possible with human operators, accelerating the scalability of this much needed protein source globally. Aspire-DarwinAI’s solution is focused on rapidly responding to the global need for significant protein production using minimal environmental resources.




Aspire Food Group

3. Aspects

Excellence and Scientific Quality: Please detail the improvements made by the nominee or the nominees’ team or yourself if your applying for the award, and why they have been a success.

Industry 4.0 represents the next industrial revolution in advanced manufacturing and smart, interconnected, collaborative factories. While Industry 4.0 relies upon a synthesis of emerging technologies, perhaps none holds as much promise within manufacturing environments as Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The facility in London, Ontario will be the world’s first fully automated insect protein manufacturing site. The facility will use industrial automation and robotics, IoT, and deep learning to farm crickets that have a similar protein quality to meat and an environmental footprint similar to (or even better than) plants. The automated and modular technology can be scaled and utilized in any geography as well as across other industry sectors. It will be up and running in February 2022.

DarwinAI’s deep learning system uses a range of data including machine inspection of videos of the crickets and IoT sensor data to detect biological changes. The goal is to create a feedback loop that allows conditions inside the proprietary bins (90,000) to be changed in real-time as conditions warrant for purposes of breeding and productivity. This will be the first time AI will be deployed in the production of micro-livestock.

DarwinAI’s technology provides computational precision which is critical when dealing with living organisms. A feedback loop makes the AI system smarter over time by continually learning from the data being gathered in the bins over a 30 day period while the crickets are maturing.

The cricket protein plant is a first of kind and is being commercially scaled. Aspire has a portfolio of 11 patents and has generated 176 inventions.

Aspire-DarwinAI are the recipients of a large grant from the Next Generation Manufacturing SuperCluster for their collaboration https://www.ngen.ca/case-studies/aspire in applying AI to the production of high quality protein.

Scaling of impact to SDGs: Please detail how many citizens/communities and/or researchers/businesses this has had or can have a positive impact on, including particular groups where applicable and to what extent.

The heart of the collaboration between Aspire-DarwinAI is a commitment to leveraging advanced technologies in the service of advancing humanitarian, environmental, and social progress. Aspire-DarwinAI addresses 6 of the 17 SDGs.

Respecting zero hunger and good health and well-being, 2 billion people [UN FAO] in 80% of the world’s countries eat insects. Aspire is taking the insect industry out of the era of manual labour and making this nutrient-rich protein with less fat and calories than traditional animal sources and a sustainable environmental footprint available at a low cost and without geographic restrictions.

Respecting industry and innovation, Aspire-DarwinAI are building a facility that is showcasing 4 highly innovative applications of technologies such as AI in the production of living organisms in a factory setting. The goal is a fully automated facility in which AI works in tandem with industrial IoT and automation to complement skilled workers. This will significantly increase the quality and safety of the food production system. The XAI helps manufacturing personnel make better decisions in the production process and overall efficiency of the production process.

Respecting climate action, Aspire-DarwinAI’s vision to produce exceptional protein using minimal resources and rapidly scalable production, will contribute to the mitigation of impacts on air, soil and water that characterize protein production from livestock and plants – per KG, GHG emissions for Aspire’s facility are expected to be ~40% lower than farmed salmon, organic chicken and turkey according to an independent analysis.

Respecting partnership, this facility will provide a template for the construction of other insect production facilities. A signed IP Collaboration Agreement identifies IP and other trade secrets that will be developed during the course of the collaboration and offered to other companies in the future.

Scaling of AI solution: Please detail what proof of concept or implementations can you show now in terms of its efficacy and how the solution can be scaled to provide a global impact ad how realistic that scaling is.

With significant global demand for quality alternative proteins for pet food and organic soil enhancers, Aspire expects to expand their production footprint across the globe, rolling out additional larger and more profitable facilities throughout the next decade.

Initial markets represent over $250B in demand (pet food, human protein, fertilizer and soil supplements). In the long term, global protein consumption is expected to exceed global fish and meat supply by 300 million tonnes by 2050, with alternative proteins (plant, insect, synthetic) poised to make up the difference.

Crickets will be the protein source of the future as they breed exponentially, convert what they eat into protein more efficiently, are a nutrient-rich source of protein and are perfectly suited to advanced indoor agriculture.

Aspire’s initial commercial facility will be the largest in the market, positioning the Company as the only supplier capable of serving large customers across the pet and human markets. With construction over 50% complete on Aspire’s commercial production facility (with an annual output capacity of 12,000 metric tons of protein), Aspire is far advanced in realizing a modular, hyper-scalable protein production system.

DarwinAI specializes in high-performance, explainable deep learning solutions. Their deep learning models are smaller (which lets them run on less-powerful equipment), have higher density, and are more accurate. This accuracy is particularly suited to manufacturing and food processing and production.

The ability of the solution to handle large and complex datasets will fulfill the parallel rise of Industrial IoT and automation. Eighty three percent of manufacturers in the US believe that smart factories will transform the way products are made [Deloitte].

Ethical aspect: Please detail the way the solution addresses any of the main ethical aspects, including trustworthiness, bias, gender issues, etc.

Aspire-DarwinAI strives to integrate financial, social and environmental value. Project success is based on achieving technological innovation to address food shortage, food health and safety.

The project has been recognized by the awarding of substantial funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada https://www.sdtc.ca/en/ and NGEN https://www.ngen.ca/case-studies/aspire. These organizations require that projects realize economic and social benefits to Canada. Regular monitoring and reporting on the benefits including job creation, technological innovation, development and sharing of IP, and effective management ensures that these benefits will be realized.

Aspire-DarwinAI are applying XAI technology to an innovative and forward-looking global initiative. DarwinAI’s ability to illuminate the ‘black box’ of Artificial Intelligence has enabled transformative AI in numerous contexts, and the opportunity to advance the important causes of food security and next-generation manufacturing is special because it brings technology and people together.

DarwinAI is committed to enabling trustworthy AI to solve industry-specific problems, like the Aspire Manufacturing Approaches to High Quality Protein. Explainable AI enables high-value human-in-the-loop use-cases whereby an individual must understand and validate the decisions being made by the system. We are applying this capability across numerous international verticals, such as advanced quality inspection in manufacturing where XAI is a crucial aspect of the digital transformation process. In addition, our novel technology around transparency bolsters our goal of enabling enterprises to build AI they can trust.

Aspire, dubbed by the United Nations FAO as “an idea whose time has come” is pioneering a modular protein production system that is intended to be deployed anywhere globally, including remote geographies that suffer from drought and severe famine. By developing an integral partnership with DarwinAI to optimizing this protein production system, Aspire is positioned to empower communities around the world to attain protein and food sovereignty.


International Research Centre
on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI)
under the auspices of UNESCO 

Jožef Stefan Institute
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