Researchers create robot that pulls breast fillets from chickens… and turkeys are next

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: TYD/SINTEF
Picture credit: TYD/SINTEF

Related tags Automation Industry Research

Researchers at SINTEF, an independent research organisation in Scandinavia, have built a robot called Gribbot to extract breast fillets from chickens, normally done by human hands.

The robot, created by Elling Ruud Øye, Ekrem Misimi and Aleksander Eilertsen is part of a larger project called CYCLE to make Norwegian food production, including fish, vegetables and meat, more profitable, environmentally friendly and efficient.

Resemblance to a vulture's beak


‘Gribbot’, so called because of its resemblance to a vulture's beak ('gribb' means vulture in Norwegian) has a hand for grasping, specially developed 'fingers', and three-dimensional vision.

Its 'eyes' have been borrowed from a 3D camera familiar to games fans – the Microsoft Kinect 2.

Ekrem Misimi, Master of Science, SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture, Norway, told FoodProductionDaily he has been working at the institute since 2002, first as a doctoral student and then as a research scientist.

“The idea for Gribbot came from the mapping we did for the user industry in the research project CYCLE. Automation of harvesting was something flagged to us by the industry due to the absence of commercial products that can automate this operation​,” he said.

The team at SINTEF has been working on this concept since December last year but more intensively this year, from April onwards​.

We haven't been contacted by any food manufacturers yet for any partnerships but we expect to hear from them. At this stage the robot is still a concept, not a commercial product. Further research is needed to deliver a prototype with a higher TRL (Technology readiness level). The main point is that automation of this operation is possible, something that Gribbot demonstrates​.

It can also be used for turkeys with modification of the gripper, since turkeys are a bigger size. We haven't experimented with turkeys yet though in the current project​.”

A flexible grasping tool scrapes the carcass

The algorithm, or mathematical computational model, that constitutes the brain of the robot has also been developed by SINTEF. It is this that enables the robot to perform the operation to the same standard as a human being.

If the robot's arm is to be guided precisely to the raw materials with the aid of 3D images, it is essential for the camera (the robot’s eyes) and the robot itself to 'speak the same language'.

A chicken fillet is a delicate object that must be handled carefully during processing and the researchers wanted a robotic hand that does not spoil the product with marks or other quality defects.

A flexible grasping tool scrapes the carcass while it is pulling off the fillet, and this removes as much of the meat as possible. 

Both the robot's vision and its grasping hand are critical factors. Eilertsen said the idea now is to continue developing Gribbot as part of future projects, and to make use of any meat that is left on the chicken carcass after the fillet has been 'harvested' by the robot.

"Almost half the food currently produced never reaches the consumer because it is lost along the production line because we don’t have the technology to process raw materials​,” added Misimi.

We want to automate everything we can think of on the food production line​.”

Related topics Processing & packaging

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