A four-wheeled device, known as Rover, has been tested by a team at Sydney University to move a herd of cows from a field to a dairy. Researchers were amazed at how easily cows accepted the presence of the robot. The cows were not fazed by it and the herding process was calm and effective, they said.
Because the robot moved in a steady manner it allowed cows to move at their own speed which was important in reducing lameness among cattle, said Dr Kendra Kerrisk, dairy researcher and associate professor.
Robots are already used in the milking process but the team wanted to see if they could be used in other areas of dairy farming. The prototype needs to be operated by a human but it is hoped that in the future a version can be developed that will be fully automated. As well as herding cows a new version could also collect information useful for farmers. According to the research team, the robot could be used at night to move slowly through the maternity paddock monitoring cows that are due to calve. It could also be used to gather data on soil and detect problems with electric fences.
“The research is in its very early stages but robotic technologies certainly have the potential to transform dairy farming,” said Dr Kerrisk. “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,” she added.
The robot could also cut down the number of accidents involving humans on farms. Most dairy farmers in Australia use quad bikes to round up their cattle and they are one of the leading causes of injury. The team hopes that by using the robot to do the job instead, accident rates could fall.
Since demonstrating the robot at a dairy symposium in Australia earlier in the year the team has secured funding to develop Rover the robot, mark II.