Meat+Poultry - July 2018 - 62
T E C H N O L O G I C A L I N N O VAT I O N S
"Twenty years ago,
to pick up 7 or 8
lbs. you would have
a robot weighing
- SEAN THOMAS
Loading chickens onto
cones during the deboning
process is currently a
labor-intensive job. Soon,
it will be able to be
performed by robots.
Researchers at GTRI's Agricultural
Technology Research Program are
experimenting with a robot's ability to learn
how to pick and place chicken front halves on
cones for deboning and further processing.
The use of robots in this manner is known
as co-robotics. The machines are designed
to work safely alongside humans in many
During the experiment, the group taught a
two-armed Baxter robot designed by Rethink
Robotics, which weighed around 160 lbs., to
perform this task.
The Baxter robot also comes with a
complete safety system that makes it feasible
for people to work near it without extensive
additional safety measures.
Sim Harbert, a senior research engineer on
the project, saw how important it was to bring
some human qualities to the robot - that way
a worker would be more comfortable working
"I think that's going to be important - and
this one even had a face - so that is something
familiar to people," Harbert says of robots
having human features when they work with
poultry plant employees. "It can show that it's
looking at you or noticing you or even has a
problem. We even made it have a 'frowny' face
when it realizes something is not working and
not able to pick up the bird."
The deboning line process is becoming
automated, but the loading of chickens is still
a manual labor job. Thomas is hoping workers
can eventually guide a robot as opposed to
doing the repetitive task themselves.
MEAT+ POULTRY | 07.18 | www.meatpoultry.com
"Now the employee doesn't have to do all
the physical work; they can sit there and assist
the robot in doing that work," Thomas says.
In a typical poultry plant, chicken front
halves are lifted from a hopper by workers
and placed onto moving lines of cones for
deboning. Employees have to deal with
different sizes of birds while also keeping up
with the production line.
Doug Britton, Agricultural Technology
Research Program manager at GTRI, oversaw
the project and was pleased with the early
"When you start thinking of tasks for
automation you want to think about those
tasks that are highly repetitive, that don't
really require significant skill or significant
decision making," Britton explains. "Those
are the early entries for automation
technology, plus we didn't see a lot of people
working in that space. So, from a research
perspective, it's a real interesting application
to kind of prove out some automation and
PUT TO THE TEST
For the experiment, the GTRI team set up a
trial work area. In the controlled space for
the Baxter robot, the first step of the process
was that the chicken was put down a chute.
This step simulated what it would be like in a
poultry facility. Then, the Baxter robot used
3D sensor technology to find the best location
to grab the chicken front half. Once located,
one of two arms reached out to grip the
carcass and pick it up.