On May 23rd, 2016 we learned about

Australian cattle will soon be in the care of automated cowbots

While cowboys are often depicted as somewhat dashing rogues, babysitting cows isn’t actually the most exciting work. The fact that cattle are often left to graze for months across hundreds of miles of terrain only complicates things, making keeping an eye out for injured or sick cows very impractical. Some ranches deal with this by constraining cows to a feed lot where they can all be seen at once, but that’s a nasty environment where cramped conditions let disease spread even faster. To keep an eye on distant cattle, Australian ranches are now deploying robots who can watch after livestock without complaint (or trips to the saloon.)

The coming wave of robotic cowboys promise to follow and herd animals while also monitoring their health. While they’d obviously be remotely accessible, they can look for abnormalities in movement as signs of injury, or changes in temperature via infra-red cameras as signs of infection. At this point injured animals will still need human care, but the robotic shepherds will be able to discover and report such problems faster than ever before, precisely sharing the location a veterinarian needs to visit. By boosting animals’ survival rates, it can save ranchers money, while at the same time improving the quality of life for grazing livestock.

Automated agriculture

Farms are also poised to benefit from the tireless eyes of robotic assistants. Robots have been designed to make accurate fruit counts so that resources can be better allocated. Others can meticulously check rows of crops for weeds, carefully deploying small amounts of herbicide rather than spraying every plant in the field. As with the robotic shepherds, these tasks aren’t technically out of reach for humans, but they’re not terribly well-suited to our strengths either. The assumption is that human labor would be better spent on maintaining this mechanical workforce, rather than inspecting each and every leaf in a field, day in and day out.

Source: Robot ranchers monitor animals on giant Australian farms by Alice Klein, New Scientist

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