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This Robot Shepherd in Australia Could Herd Cattle On Its Own

Aug 03, 2016 08:10 AM EDT
Farmers in Australia have a new best friend: a robot shepherd that can herd and watch over farm animals.
(Photo : Bhakti2 / Pixabay)

Meet SwagBot, Australia's newest robot cowboy.

Developed by the Australian Center for Field Robotics (ACFR), SwagBot is designed to easily navigate vast, rugged terrains, guiding cows and other farm animals towards pastures.

The battery-operated, four-wheeled SwagBot can reach speeds of 15 to 20 kilometers per hour on smooth terrain. It can also tow trailers around the farm and get around obstacles in the farm, like swamps, logs and sudden drops without toppling over.

The ACFR tested the autonomous farming robot for the first time in a farm near Newcastle, Australia on June 30.

According to Mashable, the robot did not disappoint: it was able to do its job of navigating the rugged terrain with ease and herding the cows.

"[The cows] were obviously scared and ran away. It's what we expected," Salah Sukkarieh, professor of robotics at Sydney University and project lead for agricultural robotics at ACFR, told Mashable.

"We use it to our advantage in herding animals, or we figure out how to monitor from a distance."

According to Sukkarieh, costs for robotics development have become low enough for the past 10 years to enable farmers to own robots like SwagBot. Apart from developing automated systems to assist farmers, ACFR is also building robots to be used for mining and aviation.

Sukkarieh and his team are looking to make further enhancements to SwagBot, the Smithsonian Magazine reports. The enhancements will include sensors that will allow the robot to know if a cow is sick or injured based on its body temperature or the way it walks.

SwagBot will also have the ability to monitor the condition of the pastures it roams upon, checking to see which fields have the most grass for the cows to feed on. According to Sukkarieh, these are all still a work in progress, and that he and his team will be working on algorithms that will enable animal monitoring "over the next few months."

The ACFR has also created other agricultural robots, such as the Ladybird, which will take care of the harvesting work, and the J3 Club, which is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is in charge of weed detection.

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