In a groundbreaking initiative, four leading research institutions in the United States are spearheading the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics tailored for the poultry processing sector. Supported by a substantial four-year, $5 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, these institutions have collaborated to establish the Centre for Scalable and Intelligent Automation in Poultry Processing.
The University of Arkansas, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Fort State Valley University are combining forces to integrate AI, machine learning, and robotics, aiming to advance efficiency and sanitation in chicken meat processing operations.
Project director Jeyam Subbiah highlighted the pivotal role of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, which will receive nearly half of the grant ($2.2 million) to focus on automating food safety processes in poultry processing plants. The push for automation gained momentum during the Covid-19 pandemic, driven by the rapid spread of illness among processing line workers, making it challenging to hire sufficient personnel.
Subbiah emphasized the need for transformative change in poultry processing technology, which has seen only incremental advancements over the past 70-80 years. Robotic hands face challenges in securely handling chickens, and there is a necessity for new technology to prevent dropping slippery meats. Additionally, precision in separating carcasses into cuts of meat poses a challenge that current automation struggles to meet.
Donyi Wang, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, highlighted the inefficiencies of existing deboning automation, which leads to significant meat wastage. The project aims to utilize AI and virtual reality to enhance precision and reduce this wastage.
The Georgia Institute of Technology, receiving $2.1 million of the grant, will focus on automating processing lines responsible for converting chickens into meat. The overarching goal is to drive transformative innovation in the poultry and meat processing industry through the integration of automation, robots, AI, and virtual reality technology.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will explore the effects of robotics on poultry industry laborers, studying their perceptions of the technology. The project aims to create new owner-operated businesses in rural areas and advance fundamental theories about science, technology, and society.
Finally, Fort Valley State University in Georgia, represented by Brou Kouakou, will investigate the potential application of technology developed through the project to other meat industries, broadening the impact of the innovative solutions.