Robots and other various non-human "workers" are increasingly performing the work and labour that was once the province of human hands. Often, it's because the machinery is less costly than the salaries paid to flesh-and-blood works. Other times, it's because humans cannot perform certain tasks as well as a piece of machinery specially designed for the job.
For the past eight years, Gary McMurray and his team of robot builders at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been developing a robot that can debone a raw chicken as well as—if not better and faster than—a human factory worker. (Georgia, the nation's largest producer of poultry, is financing the project.) The greatest challenge in developing a chicken-deboning bot is the hand-eye coordination humans use to size up the bird and determine where to place the blade and how deep.
In June, McMurray, the division chief for the Georgia Tech Research Institute's food processing technology division, plans to test what he calls a revolutionary prototype chicken-deboning robot. "This machine, equipped with robotic arms and a surgical blade, is guided by a three-dimensional imaging system that can determine in a split second the size of each chicken and where its skin, meat and bone are," McMurray told the Wall Street Journal. Whether the robot can separate meat from bone as quickly as a skilled laborer with a blade is that will be the ultimate proof of success.
Bone chips and shards sprayed into the meat by a faulty blade is one concern of the team, as is a blade that leaves too much viable meat on the bone. There are already mechanized deboners, but they are not sophisticated enough by design to calibrate the appropriate cutting motions for various sizes of bird.
For McMurray to be successful would be a great accomplishment and a step forward in food production generally. It would also mean, if chicken processing plants were to outfit themselves with the machinery and axe their staff, a significant number of jobs lost to yet another advance in technology.
Imagine the poultry-specific hunger strike that could happen, if enough people get upset enough by the potential job loss.