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Integrated Systems Research and Development in Automation and Sensors for Sustainability of Speciality Crops


<OL> <LI> Adapt biological concepts associated with specialty crop production, harvest, and postharvest handling into quantifiable parameters which can be sensed <LI> Develop sensors and sensing systems which can measure and interpret the parameters <LI> Design and evaluate automation systems which incorporate varying degrees of mechanization and sensors to assist specialty crop industries with labor, management decisions, and reduction of production costs <LI> Work in partnership with equipment and technology manufacturers to commercialize and implement the outcomes of this project </ol>

Outputs:<UL> <LI> Engineering models relating mechanical and/or physical properties, enzymatic reactions, internal quality and plant external stress indicators to the "biological state" of selected specialty crops <LI> Engineering models which estimate "biological state" based on the interaction of multiple indicators <LI> Sensors capable of measuring the "biological state" adapted for outdoor use on automated equipment <LI>Sensors used in industrial and military automation adapted for use in specialty crop environments <LI>Sensors capable of measuring and monitoring product quality and food safety during harvest and postharvest operations. <LI>Specialty crop automated and semi-automated equipment available <LI>Wide-area specialty crop data communication systems available <LI>Decision-making software for use in aiding the management of automated equipment Integrated set of design, test and manufacturing standards <LI>Design, manufacturing and usage education modules for use in university and continuing education learning.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The Need: The continuing trend of declining available labor, combined with an increasing consumer desire for a safe and high quality food supply, the pressure of global competition, and the need to minimize the environmental footprint, represents challenges for specialty crop sustainability in the US. Producers and processors are urgently seeking new devices and systems which will aid them during production, harvesting, sorting, storing, processing, packaging, marketing, and transportation while also minimizing input costs. Currently, there is a lack of effective and efficient sensors and automation systems for specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery). This is because many of the underlying biological processes related to quality and condition of fruits and vegetables are difficult to translate into engineering concepts. Biological variability, coupled with the variable environmental factors, makes it difficult to develop sensors and automation systems for effective implementation at various stages of the production, harvest and postharvest handling chain. Additionally, obtaining measurement of biological factors internal to the commodity is difficult using external, nondestructive sensors, as such devices or processes used must adapt to a wide variation in shape, size, and maturity of the commodity being processed. It is a challenge for any single specialty crop sector to afford the cost of research, development, and commercialization of this complex level of automation. It is thus important for public agency entities to assist this economically vital agricultural sector with sensor and automation research and development. A CRIS search conducted in Fall 2007 failed to identify and USDA project focused on the development of automated equipment for specialty crop operations. A system-wide approach to developing automation for the specialty crop industry is critically needed to address economic and environmental sustainability challenges. Hawaii is a tropical place where field research is possible on working production farms for tropical specialty crops. In particular coffee and cacao are current crops with much potential if production costs can continue to be kept competitive through use of technological solutions to crop management, harvesting, and post-harvest. The project should result in crop models, sensors, and equipment that will keep tropical crop production in Hawaii. <P>

APPROACH: Multiple Crop and Cross Platform Integration: A key and continuing theme in this project is a two dimensional integration of research activities; integration from the adaptation of biological concepts to measurable parameters through the commercialization of new products; and integration within each objective among different specialty crops. Although the objectives seem sequential in execution, we anticipate a swirl of concurrent activities centered about and driven by the needs of specialty crop growers for automation of growing, harvesting and postharvest operations. A major task is to facilitate communication and collaboration among the members of this project, and between project members and other stakeholders in specialty crop agriculture. Hawaii will be concentrating on tropical specialty crops including coffee and cacao.

Gautz, Loren
University of Hawaii
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