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Robotic shepherds operating on farms

By Tim Sandle     May 20, 2016 in Environment
In Australia, autonomous robots have been used to examine crops, count yields and remove weeds. The latest development is with robotic shepherds, to guide and protect sheep.
The idea of using robots as shepherds on the remote farms in Australia makes sense. In many locales, livestock are left to their own devices, only checked by farmers at irregular intervals. This idea is now close to reality with a two-year trial about to begin. Here a so-called “farmbot” will be tested out. The robot will be designed to herd livestock, assess animal health, and ensure the animals have have enough pasture to graze on.
According to Salah Sukkarieh of the University of Sydney, who is running the trial, the robot will be equipped with thermal and vision sensors to scan for ill or injured animals (through an assessment of the body temperature of the creatures or alterations in the way the animals move.)
Speaking with New Scientist magazine, Dr. Sukkarieh expanded further: "You’ve also got colour, texture and shape sensors looking down at the ground to check pasture quality."
The robot, which has yet to be named, will be based on an earlier prototype called ‘RIPPA™(Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision Application.) This robot was used primarily for weed control, capable of autonomously shooting weeds at high speed using a directed micro-dose of liquid.
It is expected that the new robot will be able to herd up to 150 cows or sheep. The aim will be for the robot to help livestock safely navigate around trees and over mud, swamps and hills. If this is successful, such robots could become commonplace.
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