Currently, poultry processors use human screeners to inspect the carcasses. The screeners communicate instructions to trimmers using gestures when they find a bird with undesirable parts.
Now researchers at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) claim they have designed a computer system that automates theinspection process, making it faster and more efficient. The system eliminates the need for the human screeners and is being field tested prior to being commercialised for use, said the head of GTRI'sfood technology processing division, Craig Wyvill.
Other GTRI researchers are in the process of developing two graphical communications systems to link the inspection system to trimmers on the processing line. They plan to use augmented reality technology,a computing technique which combines computer graphics with images of the real world.
Augmented reality technology is currently used in industrial assembly and inspection and in medicine. Using light imaging, the two systems project graphical instructions from an automatedinspection system onto birds on a processing line. The graphical symbols tell workers how to trim or whether to discard defective products.
Both systems are currently being tested at Georgia Tech. Craig Wyvill, head of the GTRI food technology processing division, stated it may take several years before they are commercially available.However, the trend toward automation of poultry inspection may drive use of the new communications systems.
"This is kind of like a chess game," he stated. "We're well down the line on imaging and automation technology. But we need a communication system to get information topeople who remain on the processing line."
The first communications system uses a see-through, head-mounted display worn by a trimmer. It directly overlays graphical instructions on a trimmer's view of the birds as they pass him on theline.
The second system uses a laser scanner, mounted in a fixed location near the processing line, to project graphical instructions directly onto each bird that requires some action, such as trimming.The system tracks the carcass and beams the product onto it.
"It's easy to see this technology working in a poultry plant," said Blair Macintyre, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech College of Computing and an augmented reality expert. "Thequestion is, 'What is the best implementation of the technology to satisfy the environmental constraints?'"
Researchers are working to adapt the technology to conditions typically found in poultry processing plants. Poultry processing plants are typically wet and slippery and have to be thoroughly washeddown with high-pressured water streams daily. Also, trimmers need simple, graphical instructions and must have their hands free of any object except a knife for cutting defective bird parts, he statedin a press release.
Each system appears to have advantages and disadvantages, Macintyre said. However he notes the laser-based system is more practical. The real disadvantage of the head-mounted system is its cost.Heads-up displays cost about $3,600 (€3,000), but they are getting cheaper. Two years ago, they cost about $7,000 (€5,800) each.
"We think these technologies have the potential to be better than current practices," Macintyre stated. "But, two humans working together over time have learned to use non-verbalcues and have developed a smooth communication system. That will be hard to beat at some level."
One of the greatest benefits that both solutions provide is in giving advance warning to trimmers of the workload coming down the line. Current practices don't provide this advantage, he stated.
"Right now, they basically get little warning," he said. "If they know nothing is coming, they can take advantage of momentary lulls to do other tasks, such as cleaning up andsharpening their knives."