FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. — The University of Arkansas received a $1 million grant to design and develop robotics in poultry processing.

The funds come through a joint proposal from the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative 3.0 and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Dongyi Wang, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering, is leading the project at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the university’s System Division of Agriculture. The four-year project will work to develop a robotic system that can hang raw chicken at the capacity of human workers.

“We are trying to explore the opportunities and to see how automation can help the agriculture industry and the food industry,” Wang said.

Most processing steps are automated. However, rehanging raw chicken is one step that heavily relies on human workers, Wang said. To meet the needs of this process, the researchers are developing tactile sensory grippers and a high-resolution, high-speed 3D imaging system that differentiates between the topmost chicken and the rest of the pile.

“We have a great team to tackle the proposed project,” said Wan Shou, assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department at the U of A, highlighting the project’s interdisciplinary knowledge involving manufacturing, sensors, robotics, mechanics, and computer vision and machine learning.

The researchers will test the robotics in the experiment station’s pilot chicken processing plant. The project will also be used for educational opportunities and activities involving poultry and broader food industries.