Lobster and other seafood may simply be a source of tasty meat that’s fun to eat at social events. These lobsters are especially found in large numbers in New England and are exported widely to the US, Canada, Italy, and France. “While fishing is done locally, much of the processing is outsourced to other countries. A lack of local manpower means scallops caught off the coast of Massachusetts might travel to China or India for processing before they appear on your plate at a restaurant in Boston,” says Taskin Padir, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University who believes robots could be the solution.
His new project focuses on bringing collaborative robots developed at the university into processing plants at America’s busiest fishing port, located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The goal, he said, is to increase production and efficiency, keep workers safe, and stimulate local job growth. “We want to be able to process more fish locally so that we can generate more jobs and import less,” says Padir.
He believes introducing robots could be highly beneficial in such an industry where the work is repetitive, messy, and stench filled. “Seafood processing plants are inherently harsh environments for humans,” he adds. “The factories are kept cold to keep fish fresh. There’s often slushy water and ice coating the floors, making them slippery. And some of the tasks, such as cutting and portioning fish, are dangerous. These factors limit the number of people interested in working at processing plants.”
Padir says that the robots and humans can work collaboratively, with robots performing much of the inspection and handling – that humans did manually for every fish- and humans completing the more complicated tasks, such as trimming left-over skin patches or bones. Eventually, seafood plants could double or even triple the production.
“It would be very hard for a robot to do the whole process from end-to-end,” Padir says. “ However through meaningful collaboration, we can introduce robots and potentially double-up the volume of the seafood that will be processed. That means more revenue for the company and more jobs for U.S. workers.”