Engineering researcher wins grant to study what happens when robots meet the poultry industry

July 17, 2018

What do you get when you mix a chicken with a robot?

While that might sound like the start of a “dad joke,” one Mississippi State University researcher plans to study the practical applications of robotics in the poultry industry.

Yang Zhao

Yang Zhao recently won a grant from the Egg Industry Center to study the effects of robotic systems on the poultry industry.

Yang Zhao, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering in Mississippi State’s Bagley College of Engineering, was recently awarded an $86,605 research grant from the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University to study the use of robots in the collection of floor eggs and to determine the effect of the robot’s presence on the behavior of the birds.

“In cage-free hen houses, hens can end up laying eggs on the floor instead of in their nest boxes,” Zhao said. “Eggs that are laid on the floor can represent as much as 5% of a cage-free hen house’s daily egg production, which, in a typical cage-free hen house, could amount to more than 2,500 floor eggs per day.

“Currently, all of these floor eggs need to be manually gathered by caretakers in a process that is extremely laborious and time-consuming,” Zhao added. “We are looking at the possibility of using robots to minimize the prevalence of floor eggs and to collect any floor eggs autonomously. Robotic systems could help egg producers to reduce the labor involvement and greatly improve their production efficiency.”

Mississippi State was one of just three universities to earn a research grant from the Egg Industry Center, joining Penn State and Iowa State.

“The Egg Industry Center is proud to help the industry address important questions by investing over $1 million in research grants in the past five years,” said Hongwei Xin, director of the center and assistant dean for research with Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We want to thank the industry visionaries who could foresee the benefits of a program like this and what it could provide to the industry; we look forward to sharing additional research results as more studies are completed.”

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By: Philip Allison