Science - February 4, 2019

Weighing turkeys still done manually

Roelof Kleis

Mathematicians have been unable to extract reliable weights from walking data of turkeys.

© Wikipedia

The turkey issue was one of six practical challenges that mathematicians from the Netherlands and abroad faced last week in Wageningen. This was done within the frame of the 21st edition of the work week Mathematics With Industry. The Wageningen mathematicians hosted this year’s edition. All work and thinking were done at the WICC.

Weighing turkeys is heavy work. It is generally done by lifting a turkey and standing on a scale holding it. Once the own weight is subtracted, the weight of the turkey remains. It does not get more high-tech than this. Hendrix, a giant in the turkey industry, would like a better and most importantly a less intensive method. A fully-grown turkey can easily weigh over 20 kilos.

The assignment was to extract that weight from the data produced by a force plate. This is a plate that accurately measures all forces exerted upon it when an animal walks across its surface. This seems a lot simpler than it is. Weighing a turkey that is standing still is simple, but turkeys do not remain in place. The problem is comparable to determining the weight of a person that runs across several scales.

Turkeys can swim, right?

Mathematicians were unable to solve the challenge using nothing else than the walking data. At least, not at the set accuracy of 50 grams per turkey. But a lack of a solution also forms a result. At least, that is the approach of the mathematics week. No ready-made solution was found for any of the challenges. And it rarely happens that they do, the organisation tells us. The value of such a week is found in the search and trials.

Very satisfied
Bram Visser, spokesperson for Hendrix, says they are very satisfied with the result. ‘The problem is found in the available data’, he thinks. It would make a huge difference is each turkey would pass the plate several times. Another mathematician proposed a completely different approach, using a basin with water as a scale. ‘Turkeys can swim, right?’

The 22nd edition of Mathematics With Industry will be held a year from now at Fontys in Tilburg.

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