The female fruit fly lays eggs inside ripening olives and the maggots that emerge from the eggs feed beneath the olive’s skin and leave a tiny exit hole in their wake. Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA, USA; www.ars.usda.gov) are hoping to develop real-time x-ray imaging technology that will capture images of the freshly harvested olives as they tumble along a conveyer belt. Software will enable a computer to scan the images, recognize internal damage, and activate a sorter to separate undamaged olives from their ruined counterparts.
According to agricultural engineers Ronald P. Haff and Eric S. Jackson, this technology would improve the speed, precision, and accuracy with which olive fly damage is now manually detected at processing plants. In preliminary experiments, the researchers have found that the software they are developing is able to recognize undamaged olives 90% of the time and severely damaged olives 86% of the time.
The scores demonstrate that the approach is valid. Jackson expects to have the system ready for real-world testing in a processing plant within a year or so. The research was funded by ARS and the grower-sponsored California Olive Committee.