My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How Australia's University of Sydney Livestock Farmbot heralds Efficient Agricultural Towers

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Australia's University of Sydney Livestock Farmbot heralds Efficient Agricultural Towers

“We want to improve the quality of animal health and make it easier for farmers to maintain large landscapes where animals roam free”   

Dr. Salah Sukkarieh from the University of Sydney speaking of his plans to develope a livestock robot

Australia is becoming a country ruled by Mechatronics, even in farming.

The University of Sydney has begun a two (2) year trial for a farmbot that is designed to keep track of livestock in open fields as reported in the article “Robot ranchers monitor animals on giant Australian farms”, published 20 May 2016 By Alice Klein, New Scientist.

Pizza isn't the only thing robots can deliver in the land Down Under as opined in my blog article entitled “How Marathon Robotics Dominoes Robotic Unit will replace Pizza Delivery in New Zealand”. 

The unnamed robot is a more sophisticated version of the Shrimp, will was being tested on several farms in central New South Wales. The previous bot, had been designed to herd some twenty (20) to one hundred and fifty (150) cows. 

This upgraded solar powered farmbot will be able to do the following on a larger scale:

1.      Herd livestock
2.      Track livestock health
3.      Check if the livestock have adequate pasture

Australia’s love affair with robotics or Mechatronics comes about as their environment is harsh and very few people can safely work in a country that's effectively a desert filled with poisonous rattlesnakes and spiders.

For example, Suplejack Downs in the Northern Territory is one of their most isolated cattle station. This farm extends for some 4000 square kilometres and is thirteen (13) hours from Alice Springs. If you get bitten by a rattlesnake, poisonous spider or run out of supplies in desert, you're basically dead.

Hence, it becomes necessary for the Australian Government to invest in robotics to do menial repetitive manual labour jobs such as farming and mining that even foreigners refuse to do or cannot be employed to do economically as noted in my blog article entitled  “Australia and Robots in Farming and Mining - Why Programming taught at Early Childhood necessary”.

To quote Dr. Sukkarieh, it’s more of a necessity than any plan to replace human labour, quote: “It’s farmers who are driving this because labour is in short supply and they are looking for technological assistance”.

Robotics will also reduce the reliance on feedlot that keep livestock in closed quarters and doesn’t allow them to roam freely and become contented cows. Cows, after all, need to have free range to roam, albeit that may be more a case of Australia’s Using up the vast land resources for farming.

So how did Dr. Sukkarieh team from the University of Sydney plan to achieve this feat?

University of Sydney Farmbots – Ladybird and Ftuitbots the template for the Livestock farmbot

The University of Sydney's upgraded Shrimp Robot will have the benefit of their previous experience with designing other farming robots from the ground up. This means the mechanical systems, electronics and electrical systems and even the firmware and software are all Australian-made.

University of Sydney are the ones behind the Ladybird, the world's first solar powered farmbot unveiled in November 2014 that removed weeds and tended to the health of the crops using sensors as explained in the article “World's first solar-powered farmbot unveiled in Australia”, published July 1st 2014, Science Alert Staff.

The Ladybird uses IR (Infrared) sensors, hyper-spectral cameras and LIDAR sensors to sense it environment and determine the health of the plants in the field. It can spot weeds while gently moving between plants. Once its image database positively identifies a weed, it can selectively spray and or use it robotic arm to remove it, reducing the use of pesticides in the farm.

Dr. Sukkarieh team had also announced in April 2016 that they had created a pair of robots that can spot when fruit trees have low yield as reported in the article “Robots address pollination issues”, published 30 Apr, 2016  by Ashley Walmsley, Farm Weekly

These pair of Australian-made fruit inspection robots utilised cameras, lasers and software algorithms to recommend the increased use of pollinators, such as bees or butterflies. At 1.5m-high, they are designed to manoeuvre up and down cropping rows inspect the following fruit bearing trees:

1.      Almond
2.      Avocado
3.      Banana farms
4.      Custard apple
5.      Lychee

The fruit inspection robots can identify the fruit load on the trees 60% to 96% of the time, depending on amount of fruit trees foliage and sunlight. They’re designed to be manoeuvrable, moving around trees to zoom in for a more detailed inspection.

Good to note here that all of these robots have a Remote control functionality. This makes it possible for them to be controlled from a central NOC (Network Operations Center) allowing the farmer to have real time access and control over these robots.

Farmbots the future of Agriculture - Increased Global population demands more efficient farming methods

Dr. Sukkarieh team from the University of Sydney plans to see this previous experience to make a livestock farmbot that can detect changes in livestock using specially built sensors, quote: “You’ve also got colour, texture and shape sensors looking down at the ground to check pasture quality”.

These specialized sensors will enable the livestock farmbot to detect not only body temperature but animals gait, a prime sign that an animal may be ill. It’s also a more agile model than the Shrimp and will be able to manoeuvre around trees and over mud, swamps and hills.

Something tells me these farmbots will become the future of farming around the world. This may not be because humans are becoming more educated and less likely to do labour intensive jobs.

Rather, the increase in global population which is inching towards 9.7 billion people by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100 will require that more efficiently produced food to feed our growing population as explained in my blog article entitled “United Nations Population Division says 11.2 billion people by 2100 - Why Africa and India Population exploding as Insect Meat is coming”.

Agricultural towers will be critical to doing this as argued in my blog article entitled “How IGES Canada Ltd Vertical Hydroponic Aquaponic Towers make low cost Organic foods” as humans will mostly be living in cities by 2020.  Centralized climate controlled environments for growing agricultural produce 24/7 for all 365 days of the year to satisfy our growing global population will become the norm in the future.

All managed from centrally located NOC (Network Operation Centers) run initially by humans who can oversee the machines. The future will see farming being more efficient with less hands-on as robots will do all the heavy lifting.

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