Robotics systems lately have developed a soft touch to pick up delicate foods without damaging them, and there have been a lot of developments in the grippers themselves to handle these fragile products. However, these grippers can’t do it alone; they need help from 3D vision systems and a “brain” to interpret the sighting of products on a conveyor belt and coordinate the gripper to pick up and move the delicate food item safely and quickly—without damage.
One company that’s been instrumental in the development of this intelligence—based on artificial intelligence—is Soft Robotics, which has been covered in Food Engineering recently. This company has also caught the interest of investors, including Tyson Ventures, which sees the need for robotics systems that not only handle delicate food items safely, but also pick up various shaped products—such as chicken breasts or drumsticks—coming down a conveyor.
“At Tyson Ventures, we are continually exploring new areas in automation that can enhance safety and increase the productivity of our team members,” Rahul Ray, senior director of Tyson Ventures, says. “Soft Robotics’ best-in-class robotic technology, computer vision and AI platform have the potential to transform the food industry and will play a key role in any company’s automation journey.”
FE: Do you recommend a specific vision system to be used with SoftAI and mGrip?
FE: Do you design and build a robotic cell with a robot, mGrip, vision system and controller to be sold as a single package or is that the role of a system integrator or business partner?
“Today’s industrial robots lack the dexterity, perception and cognitive skills of human workers and thus are unable to handle delicate, variable items in the often-unstructured environments found in food production and processing.”
— Mark Chiapetta, chief technical officer, Soft Robotics