Sim Harbert, senior research engineer, discusses his exploratory research project that is investigating the feasibility of using virtual reality tools to support the manufacture of automation technologies for handling natural products.
Q: PoultryTech – What is virtual reality (VR)?
A: Harbert – Virtual Reality (VR) is an artificial environment experienced through video and sounds created by a computer and the ability to interact with the environment in various ways.
Q: PoultryTech – Are there any current industries (besides entertainment) that are using the technology? And if so, how?
A: Harbert – VR is used to a limited amount in a number of industries such as construction, engineering, and science for visualizing complex systems. It is also used to create virtual environments to aid in training for sports and other industries.
Q: PoultryTech – What gave you the idea that VR could be used in the poultry industry?
A: Harbert – With the advent of modern VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, we realized it might be a useful tool for working with irregular product like chickens, for training on tasks related to poultry processing, and visualizing new technologies being developed for the industry.
Q: PoultryTech – What VR systems are being used in your project? (describe them)
A: Harbert – We have the HTC Vive, a VR system with a headset and two handheld controllers that is connected to a powerful graphics computer. It has special beacons mounted on either side of an area of a room to allow for very accurate tracking of the headset and controllers as the user moves around. We also have the Samsung Gear VR, a more mobile VR system consisting of a headset that holds a Samsung smartphone to power the video generation. It provides some simple inputs through buttons and a touchpad on the headset.
Q: PoultryTech – What area(s) of poultry production/processing are you studying, and what makes the use of VR unique? What have you learned to date?
A: Harbert – We are currently studying the use of VR to visualize and assess the trajectories of cutting paths for the deboning shoulder cut task. This allows us to analyze cutting paths generated by algorithms developed in our lab. We are also using it to help design robot grippers by studying their interaction with poultry in the VR environment so that we do not have to build and test the actual hardware.
Q: PoultryTech – What are the potential benefits for the poultry industry?
A: Harbert – We hope to demonstrate that VR has a number of poultry industry use cases, including improving our research and development in the lab and helping with educational and training tasks.
Q: PoultryTech – Are there any other poultry-related areas where VR tools may be useful and how?
A: Harbert – We are interested in developing a teaching tool similar to a previously generated video by Auburn University called “The Virtual Chicken.” This could be useful in educational environments. We also think that VR could be used to demonstrate automation systems that are difficult or expensive to build.
Q: PoultryTech – What are the project’s next steps?
A: Harbert – This has been an exploratory project, so the plan is that ideas from the project will be transitioned into more specific project areas. For example, the work on gripper design will be continued with specific gripper design projects, and the educational tasks will be continued with further projects in that area.