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Carnegie Mellon engineers develop machine that visually inspects and sorts strawberry plants
Date:12/17/2009

PITTSBURGHResearchers at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) have developed a plant-sorting machine that uses computer vision and machine learning to inspect and grade harvested strawberry plants and then mechanically sort them by quality tasks that until now could only be done manually.

In a successful field test this fall, the machine classified and sorted harvested plants more consistently and faster than workers could, with a comparable error rate.

"We're looking forward to using the system," said Liz Ponce, CEO of Lassen Canyon Nursery in Redding, Calif., one of five strawberry plant producers sponsoring the NREC project. "All of our stakeholders feel that it has a lot of potential." The other sponsors are Driscoll Nursery Associates; Nor Cal Nursery, Inc.; Plant Sciences, Inc.; and Crown Nursery LLC. Together, the five producers represent about 85 percent of the California strawberry plant nursery market.

To maintain good strawberry yields, commercial berry growers must replace their plants every year. During the fall harvest season, strawberry plant nursery farms use manual labor to sort several hundred million strawberry plants into good and bad categories a tedious and costly process.

The strawberry plant sorter uses computer vision to examine harvested plants that pass by on a conveyor belt. The sorter's novel machine learning algorithms allow it to be taught how to classify strawberry plants of different sizes, varieties and stages of growth, beyond the simple classification of good and bad plants. This introduces dramatic new efficiencies for strawberry nursery farms, helping them improve quality, streamline production and deliver better strawberry plants to berry growers, which in turn produces better strawberries for consumers.

"The sorter can adapt to plants that vary from year to year, or even within the same growing season," said Christopher Fromme, the project's manager and l
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Contact: Byron Spice
bspice@cs.cmu.edu
412-268-9068
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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