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


<UL> <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. <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. <LI> Integrated set of design, test and manufacturing standards.<LI> Design, manufacturing and usage education modules for use in university and continuing education learning. </UL> (2009): Spring 2009: Meetings between researchers, growers and manufactures have identified targeted specialty crops and related operations. <BR>Summer 2009: Research, design and manufacturing responsibilities for the targeted crops / operations assigned. <BR>Fall 2009: Target crops / operations requiring longer development time (not likely to be completed within the 5 year duration of this project) identified.<BR><BR>(2010): Spring 2010: Obtaining industrial and federal grants to support team research. <BR><BR>(2011): Spring 2011: Developing prototypes and conducting field research.<BR><BR> (2012): Spring 2012: Filing patent application for developed technologies. <BR><BR>(2013): Spring 2013: Organizing workshops and helping industry to commercialize and apply the technologies. Fall 2013: Project ends (renewal in place).

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: 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 that 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. This project will focus on the development of new sensors and sensing systems for parameters that are important to the production, harvest, and postharvest handling of specialty crops. Work will also be conducted to design and evaluate automation systems that incorporate varying degrees of mechanization and sensors to assist specialty crop industries with labor, management decisions, and reduction of production costs.<P>

APPROACH: <BR> Objective 1: Adapt biological concepts into parameters which can be sensed. Research will be conducted to identify the cellular mechanical properties, and how these cell-scale properties integrate to form tissue-scale mechanical properties which can be linked to quality parameters such as firmness and crispness. The concentration and location of internal quality factors, measured using nonintrusive means, will be studied as indicators of fruit and vegetable maturity. Rapid, cost effective, and more accurate methods and techniques for quantification of the electromagnetic properties will be developed and their relationship with internal quality parameters of fruits and vegetables will be studied. <BR><BR>Objective 2: Develop sensors and sensing systems. A new class of sensors that are rugged and adaptable enough for field and packing house use will be developed for automated operations on the growing crop, as well as harvest, handling, and transport processes. Research and design will be conducted to develop sensors that can nondestructively, rapidly and accurately determine the inherent strength of a plant tissue. New image and vision-based sensor concepts such as stereoscopic images will be developed to provide automated systems for specialty crops. New and robust biosensors will be developed for outdoor use in automated equipment for specialty crops. <BR> <BR>Objective 3: Design and evaluate automation systems. New computer-based data systems will be developed which collect, verify, and organize raw data to present information to the operator such as the maturity of the crop, crop stress, and spatial variation of specialty crops. Semi-automated devices for assisting human labor will be developed and evaluated for ergonomic (safety, productivity, comfort and intellectual engagement) needs of the human in the system.

Slaughter, David
University of California - Davis
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