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"UK: "Intelligent" potato processor for improved efficiency"
The team behind the project used off the shelf equipment coupled with some new software to create a system that is notable for its low cost. The resultant machine is able to spot defects, diseases and blemishes in real time and accepts different programming to allow it to differentiate different varieties of potato.
The project was carried out with the aid of the Potato Council who were looking for a machine to help the industry improve efficiency, speed and accuracy at the same time as lowering costs.
‘Most potatoes are still sorted by hand,’ Dr Tom Duckett, director of Lincoln’s Centre for Vision and Robotics Research, told The Engineer.
‘Problems with manual sorting include the subjectivity, fatigue and high cost of human inspectors, while currently deployed artificial-vision systems require manual calibration and have limited accuracy.’
The system comprises a low-cost vision sensor and standard desktop computer. This uses software that takes input from human experts to learn how to identify differences in colour and texture between blemished and unblemished skin in a specific sample.
To enable the software to deal with the large amounts of natural variation in the produce, the researchers created a machine-learning algorithm to automatically select good image features.
The other major challenge was enabling the system to work fast enough to analyse the potato in real time, as the original software took several hours for each image.
Duckett’s team is now seeking funding to commercialise the technology. ‘If the current funding bid is successful, we should see the first commercial systems being ready for market within the next three years,’ he said.
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