Machine vision to be used to automate cotton gins

APRIL 20--A scientist at the US Agricultural Research Service (www.ars.usda.gov) has developed a patented machine-vision system for automating cotton gins.

APRIL 20--A scientist at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS; www.ars.usda.gov), the US Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, has developed a patented machine-vision system for automating cotton gins that is now being manufactured commercially. The system uses color video cameras for a hands-off monitoring of the "on-the-fly" flow of cotton and attendant debris through the many machines that make up a modern cotton gin.

Mathew G. Pelletier, an agricultural engineer with the ARS Cotton Production and Processing Research Unit in Lubbock, TX, invented the system. Its real-time monitoring of "trash" content will enable cotton ginners to move closer to an automated system that seems inevitable in the near future. It can advise ginners or automatically turn cleaners on and off, depending on trash content.

By knowing the trash content at each stage of ginning, gin operators will know exactly which stages they can or cannot skip to reach particular quality goals without under- or overcleaning cotton. Undercleaning lowers cotton's value and makes the cotton more difficult to use at textile mills, while overcleaning wastes cotton. Added weight from the saved cotton provides an additional $3 to $5 per 500-lb bale, which could lead to more than $100,000 in increased revenue for a typical cotton gin.

Not only can the computer distinguish cotton from trash, it can also distinguish among various trash components--the sticks, leaves and burrs that cling to cotton after harvest. The system films 50 sq ft of cotton a minute, giving gin operators a very accurate measurement of trash levels.

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