Georgia Tech is part of a $5 million funded center advancing robotics in poultry processing

Researchers from Georgia Tech and four other institutes have been awarded the contract to increase the use of artificial intelligence and robotics in chicken processing.

The Center for Scalable and Intelligent Automation in Poultry Processing, established with a $5 million USDA-NIFA grant, aims to bring robotic automation to the poultry processing industry.

This press release first appeared in the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture newsroom and is tailored for Georgia Tech readers.

Researchers from Georgia Tech, the University of Arkansas Systems, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Fort Valley State University in Georgia were awarded a $5 million grant to study the use of artificial intelligence and robotics in chicken processing amplify to reduce boning waste and detect pathogens.

With a grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Center for Scalable and Intelligent Automation in Poultry Processing is established. The center, which is led by the University of Arkansas Agriculture Systems Department, will join researchers from five institutions in three states to adapt robotic automation to chicken processing.

Douglas Britton, manager of the agricultural technology research program at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), said his team is very excited to be collaborating on this project with experts from the four other institutions.

“The ultimate goal is to drive transformative innovation in the poultry and meat processing industry through automation, robotics, AI and VR technologies,” said Britton. “Building on years of work with the GTRI Agricultural Technology Research Program, we are pleased to see that USDA-NIFA has selected this team to continue this effort.”

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Georgia Tech is a key partner in the project and was awarded $2 million to focus on automating the processing lines that turn chickens into meat, said Jeyam Subbiah, professor and chief of food science at the Department of Agriculture and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas and leader of the project. The funding lasts four years.

The Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Department of Agriculture, will receive $2.2 million from the grant to focus primarily on automating food safety in poultry processing plants.

The remaining grant money will be split between Julia McQuillan, Willa Cather Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Brou Kuoakou, Associate Dean for Research at Fort Valley State University in Georgia.

Jeff Buhr, a USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist, will bring his expertise in broiler physiology to lead robotic meat deboning, Subbiah said.

Georgia is the nation’s largest broiler producer. Arkansas is #3 according to USDA figures for 2021.

Master the challenge

The recent impetus to automate broiler processing began with the COVID-19 pandemic, Subbiah said. The disease quickly spread among workers on the processing line. Since the worst of the pandemic, the poultry industry, like many others, has struggled to hire enough workers.

“Poultry processing lines started 70 to 80 years ago,” Subbiah said. “Since then, there have only been incremental changes in technology. Transformational change is required today.”

Humans can feel when a knife hits a bone. In contrast, existing automation in poultry processing, such as B. Boners, lots of meat.

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“Human deboners leave about 13 percent of the meat on the bone,” Subbiah said. “Automatic deboners leave 16 to 17 percent. On an industrial scale, this is a significant loss in value. We will use artificial intelligence and virtual reality to improve precision and reduce waste.”

Automation can alleviate labor shortages, Subbiah said. It also enables operations to be located in rural areas with fewer workers but closer to poultry houses and with lower land costs.

Initially, people working remotely can help advance robotic processing. Subbiah envisions workers wearing virtual reality goggles and haptic gloves logging in from their homes to control robots miles away.

While working remotely, the artificial intelligence workers will teach how to cut up chickens of different sizes and shapes.

“Automated machines are currently programmed to debone or cut up chickens based on an average size and shape. But no chicken is that size or shape,” Subbiah said. “Robotic knives cut meat badly. The machines must learn to adapt to the reality of random sizes and shapes.”

The participating scientists from Georgia Tech are all part of GTRI:

Douglas Britton, Manager of Agricultural Technology Research Program Colin Trevor Usher, Senior Research Scientist and Department Head, Robotic Systems and Technology, Agricultural Technology Research Program Ai-Ping Hu, Senior Research Engineer, Agricultural Technology Research Program Konrad Ahlin, Research Engineer, Intelligent Department of Sustainable Technologies Michael Park, Research Engineer , Department of Smart Sustainable Technologies Benjamin Joffe, Research Scientist, Department of Smart Sustainable Technologies Shreyes Melkote, Morris M. Bryan, Jr. Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Associate Director of Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute and Executive Director of the Novelis Innovation Hub

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“We are very pleased to be collaborating with our colleagues here in the Department of Agriculture, as well as our colleagues at Georgia Tech and the other participating institutions on this exciting project,” said David Caldwell, Head of the Poultry Science Division and Director of the Department of Agriculture at the Center of Excellence in Poultry Science.

“We expect the results of these coordinated research projects to be meaningful to our stakeholders in the commercial poultry industry here in Northwest Arkansas and throughout the industry,” said Caldwell. “This project will help advance technology in poultry processing and food safety.”

For more information about the project, see the original press release on the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture website.