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SFU is getting a grip on produce handling challenges

February 11, 2015  By Dave Harrison

Dr. Carlo Menon, SFU SFU

Feb. 11, 2015, Burnaby, B.C. — Research to develop new smart-materials technology for handling delicate objects – including fruits and vegetables – is among Simon Fraser University projects sharing in more than $1.5 million in new money for projects funded by a federal government research-grant agency.

The other projects include higher-temperature tolerant Arctic charr brood stock and improved tree seed quality and seedling stress resilience.

The new funds are part of a national Strategic Project Grant (SPG) announcement made this week by NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The three-year grants support scientific partnerships that help strengthen Canada’s economy, society and environment.


Carlo Menon, an engineering science professor, is using a more than $480,000 to create a transformative smart adhering interface (SAI) technology.

It individually picks and places delicate items such as fruits and vegetables without damaging them or leaving marks. The absence of such a grasping technology forces the Canadian horticultural industry to rely heavily on manual labour, reducing its global competitiveness.

“The SAI consists of smart materials that, controlled by an external stimulus, deform, adhere, hold and gently release delicate horticultural commodities,” says Menon.

“This radically novel approach, when coupled to a robotic manipulator, will enable picking and placing delicate items at high speed without damaging them or leaving any mark.”

The technology will directly address the needs of the Canadian horticultural industry and benefit the Canadian automation technology sector.

The SAI will also be useful in other automation industries where delicate objects are handled such as bakery products, eggs, industrial plastic, glass, and metallic and wood products.

SFU’s three grants were among 78 newly funded programs across the country totaling $38 million.
SFU is a leader amongst Canada’s comprehensive research universities and is ranked one of the top universities in the world under 50 years of age. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 30,000 students, and boasts more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.

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