TIFTON ­— Someday, apples in north Georgia could be harvested by robots modeled after the gibbon, an arboreal ape species that swings from limb-to-limb in the forest canopy, hunting and picking ripe fruit to eat. Called “brachiation,” or arm swinging, their method of locomotion inspired the design of the Collaborative Apple Picking Robot (CAPBOT), an apple-harvesting robot invented by engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

At the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah last January, Ai-Ping Hu, senior research engineer in Georgia Tech’s Food Processing Technology Division, explained how CAPBOT uses a “search” arm to identify apples and plan pathways for the “grasp” arm to approach and pick the fruit. Each arm is equipped with a color-plus-depth camera. While one hand can recognize apples and direct the other hand to pick them, the machine can’t measure the ripeness of the fruit. Researchers are currently working to upgrade the grasp arm with that ability.

When the topic is agricultural research in Georgia, the University of Georgia is the organization most often credited. And when UGA and Georgia Tech meet in the same sentence, especially around Thanksgiving, they’re typically colliding on the football field for another historic round of clean, old-fashioned hate.

But what you see on the gridiron is 180 degrees from the relationship the two schools share in the farm fields of Georgia. There they work in harmony — and often full-fledged partnership — to improve the productivity and profitability of various sectors of Georgia agriculture.

Examples of productive collaboration include:

Agricultural engineering

Glen Rains, an agricultural engineer in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is working with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to improve the peanut-grading process. After harvest and drying, peanuts are manually sampled and inspected for size, moisture content, meat content, foreign matter and damage. Grades given to peanuts determine the price a farmer will get at the market for his crop, as well as the loan value for price-support purposes.

“It’s done with the human eye and has been done this way since the 1950s,” employing thousands of seasonal workers, said Rains.

Through a combination of technologies that include digital imaging that allows a computer to inspect and grade the samples, this collaboration aims to streamline the process and improve efficiencies.

Horticulture

Mark Czarnota, a UGA CAES horticulturist based in Griffin, is collaborating with biologist Ulrika Egertsdotter and Cyrus Aidun at Georgia Tech on the micropropagation of Abies firma (Momi fir), blueberry and stevia. Abies firma could be Georgia’s answer to North Carolina’s perennial Christmas tree favorite Fraser fir. The scientists are searching for a reliable means of propagating this conifer for the southeastern Christmas tree industry using somatic embryogenesis.

The blueberry/stevia project is looking at faster, more efficient ways to propagate these plants.

Poultry science

It’s only fitting that the lion’s share of collaborative efforts between UGA and Georgia Tech focuses on Georgia’s top agricultural industry — poultry. A few poultry projects are:              

Removing phosphorus from poultry-processing wastewater using magnetic nanoparticles. The separated phosphorus is then used as an inorganic feed ingredient for broiler chicks (Jie Xu at Georgia Tech and Woo Kyun Kim in UGA’s Department of Poultry Science).

Developing a virtual-reality chicken via CT/MRI imaging to generate models for training robots to perform complex cuts during poultry processing (Sim Harbert at Georgia Tech and Brian Kiepper and Laura Ellestad in UGA’s Department of Poultry Science).

Audio monitoring of rearing environments of broilers and broiler breeders to learn what bird vocalizations say about their health and well-being (Wayne Daley at Georgia Tech; Jeanna Wilson, Bruce Webster, Casey Ritz in UGA’s Department of Poultry Science; and Mark Jackwood and Maricarmen Garcia in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine’s Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center).

Using an ice-water slurry for enhanced antimicrobial activity in poultry processing (Comas Haynes at Georgia Tech; Harsha Thippareddi in UGA’s Department of Poultry Science; and Jeff Buhr at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service).

Advancing grow-house robotics (Colin User and Wayne Daley at Georgia Tech; Jeanna Wilson, Bruce Webster and Casey Ritz in UGA’s Department of Poultry Science).

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