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Analyzing Corn Kernels

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. The traditional way to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows, and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. A new imaging machine developed at the University of Illinois can make this task a lot easier, and it provides more information about the corn than can be manually observed.

Tony Grift is an ag engineering professor at the University of Illinois, and lead scientist on the project. He says the machine isn’t fancy, it’s more like a tabletop photography studio. The box has a halogen light hanging above it with a spike in the center. The ear of corn is cleaned, put on the spike, and a computer program takes care of the rest.

"The computer automatically rotates that corn ear. If you have 17 rows we take 18 pictures. And then what you do, you import those pictures in the program that I mentioned," says Grift. "The whole process takes about, I don’t know, one minute."  

Two cameras controlled by the computer capture information about the ear. It can register up to 16 different characteristics of each kernel.

"The first one we’d like to know is the size, and then you calculate the circumference, and then you calculate the center of gravity," says Grift. "You can go further than that, I mean you can say what is the major axis of that kernel, what’s the minor axis of that kernel. We do something called circularity, which really means how close is that kernel image to a circle."

Grift says they want to expand the idea, maybe even determining the nutritional content of each kernel.  They’d also like to work with companies to move on from manual, tedious field measurements to smart imaging techniques.

Learn more about kernel imaging

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