November 18, 2013
New Robo-Cowboy May Replace Traditional Cattle Herders
[ Watch the Video: Rover Robot Herds Cattle From Field To Dairy ]Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
To herd their cattle, dairy farmers around the world use everything from specialty dog breeds to all-terrain vehicles. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia has revealed the development of a game-changing tool: a robo-cowboy named "Rover."
The Australian scientists said they were able to effectively use Rover to bring a herd of cattle from the field to a diary for milking, as shown in a video released by the university. They noted that the cows were not bothered by the robot’s presence, a development that will be necessary for the broader adoption of robots in the dairy industry.
University of Sydney professor Kendra Kerrisk told BBC News that Rover moved the cows in at a leisurely pace that was much slower than most conventional methods, noting that this is critical to reducing injuries and lameness among cattle.
To develop Rover, the team converted a robot that was already being used to monitor trees in a fruit orchard. A team at from the university’s Centre for Field Robotics said they converted the robot so that it could be used to gather data on robot-bovine interactions. The current model needs a human operator to run correctly, but the Australian team said they hoped a fully automated version could soon be developed.
Kerrisk said news of the robot’s herding ability was greeted enthusiastically by farmers.
"The research is in its very early stages but robotic technologies certainly have the potential to transform dairy farming," said Kerrisk, an associate professor of veterinary science. "When we have discussed this concept with farmers they have been extremely excited and we have had a flurry of calls and emails asking how they can get hold of one.”
Use of the robot would effectively reduce the number of accidents involving dairy farmers. Most farmers in Australia use ATVs to round up their cattle, a leading cause of injury. A robotic herder would effectively remove this hazard.
The Australian team added that dairy farmers might be able to use robots for more than just herding. They said a robot could eventually be used to watch the maternity paddock at night for signs that a pregnant cow is due to calve, to gather data on soil conditions, and detect problems with electric fences.
After demonstrating the robot at a dairy symposium earlier in the year, the team said they secured funding to develop the next iteration of their robo-cowboy.
As rhe Sydney team is refining their design, Australian farmers are reporting having trouble finding farm workers. Farmer Yvonne Smith told The Australian recently that the lack of native labor forced her and her husband to look overseas, with two of the couple's full-time employees having recently migrated from South Africa.
"We, of course, looked locally first," she said. "But, failing that, we started to look overseas. There just aren't enough people in Australia that want to work on farms."
"One thing I'm concerned about is that some of the skills we need on farms aren't met by the skilled migration list,” she added. “We need someone who's had a lot of experience farming, who has those skills, not necessarily someone who has a qualification on paper, but it's very difficult to prove to the Immigration Department that someone has those skills."