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Robotics AI Australia

Robots: a Working Breed At the Dairy 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the teaching-skynet-humility dept.
Rambo Tribble writes "The BBC reports on efforts at Sydney University, where researchers have had excellent success herding dairy cows with robots. By designing the robots to move smoothly, they have kept the cows moving without stressing them. From the video, one can see the animals seem not to interpret the machine as any threat. '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.'"
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Robots: a Working Breed At the Dairy

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  • Is it zero? Can we be legitimately concerned about indefinite human unemployment and the long-term phasing out of capitalism yet?

    • Well, the farm going to need a lot of robot-fixers, because a herding pen isn't exactly a friendly environment for optical and mechanical devices.

    • 0101100101100101011001010010000001101000011000010111011100100001
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Can we be legitimately concerned about indefinite human unemployment and the long-term phasing out of capitalism yet?

      I'm personally not worried, but knock yourself out :)

      Seriously, do you think we'll all just stop doing stuff once our basic needs are met?

      • by Valdrax (32670)

        Seriously, do you think we'll all just stop doing stuff once our basic needs are met?

        You're putting the cart before the horse. The GP's worry isn't the question of whether we'll stop doing stuff once our needs are met. It's one of whether there will be enough stuff to do that pay well enough to meet our basic needs. (See, e.g. the rise of permanent, part-time, single job status in the low-end service economy for most Americans.)

        We're already at a point of labor oversupply. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics knows what happens to the price of something when supply exceeds dem

        • We're already at a point of labor oversupply. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics knows what happens to the price of something when supply exceeds demand. As robots replace demand, we need desperately to come up with new stuff for people to do, or we're going to see the middle class completely vanish. After all, the modern American middle class was built on factory jobs that no longer exist. Technology has displaced old and created news jobs before, but this presents a challenge completely unprecedented in which unskilled labor becomes completely useless.

          If that happens, we've got two choices: (1) Let those outside of the top 10% struggle because they aren't useful anymore. (2) Redistribute wealth to provide for basic necessities and let work become more voluntary.

          Option #3: Decentralize high-tech production the same way low-tech work was done some 300 years ago. Every town had its own carpenter, blacksmith, shoemaker, tanner, tailor etc. In the near future, every town will need a small workshop with basic CNC machines and 3D printers capable of producing at least a 1990s-level computer, fridge and car engine. If we manage to get rid of copyright and patent monopolies, this is the path of least resistance.

          • by Valdrax (32670)

            In the near future, every town will need a small workshop with basic CNC machines and 3D printers capable of producing at least a 1990s-level computer, fridge and car engine. If we manage to get rid of copyright and patent monopolies, this is the path of least resistance.

            Same problem, different technology. Once you eliminate most of the need for skilled labor except to service the machines and then get rid of many ways of making profit from invention, you're down to the person who owns the capital of the CNC mill & printers vs. a bunch of people who have nothing to offer in exchange for using them. Just on a more local scale. That is, unless the technologies become cheap enough to be ubiquitous, that is.

            • Same problem, different technology. Once you eliminate most of the need for skilled labor except to service the machines and then get rid of many ways of making profit from invention, you're down to the person who owns the capital of the CNC mill & printers vs. a bunch of people who have nothing to offer in exchange for using them. Just on a more local scale. That is, unless the technologies become cheap enough to be ubiquitous, that is.

              I see the perfect solution fallacy is still popular. Decentralizing production to county and city level is good enough for now and also a necessary step to make those technologies cheap and ubiquitous, if that becomes necessary later on.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Both have problems. The first is pretty much laying the seeds of a violent revolution and causing misery for no good reason but the glorification of elites, many of whom will have done little more than inherited their status. The second would create a permanent hedonistic class with no need for education nor pride in the value of work

          Uh, we have that already. I don't know if you've noticed, but you can live much better in this country on minimum wage than you can making the median wage in a lot of other countries. And we already have a bunch of people who do nothing in their spare time but watch shitty TV, drink shitty beer, and fuck. Sounds like low-level, low-brow hedonism to me. It requires neither education nor pride.

          As long as people have to work for luxuries, some people will work.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          I think you are right that factory work is done for, but I'm pretty sure that the rich will need something to do with all of that money, and the voting majority won't let them keep all of it. Things will be incredibly painful for a while, since retraining people doesn't seem to work in the wild. But I'm fairly confident that in the long-term, people will find things to keep themselves occupied in an era of automated production - and so long as some semblance of democracy holds up, the electorate will keep v

          • ... I'm pretty sure that the rich will need something to do with all of that money.

            The rich are different. They buy positional goods in competition with other rich people. Entry to Harvard for their kids. Famous artworks and jewellery pieces. Trophy houses around the world. Yachts. Football teams.

            A couple of observations: the rich buy from each other, in a competition for status and/or security. And the goods they buy don't have a low labor component in their value--most of their value derives from intrinsic scarcity.

            The best hope is that rich people decide that one way of competing pos

            • Argh! Scratch the "don't" in "don't have a low labor component".

            • by MightyYar (622222)

              And the goods they buy [fixed] have a low labor component in their value--most of their value derives from intrinsic scarcity.

              I don't agree with this statement. You listed Harvard, which employs 4600 people to service 21,000 students (and that's not counting the 11,000 medical staff they employ). Artwork and jewelry is extremely labor intensive - almost always hand-made. Trophy houses cost millions and employ dozens in their construction and maintenance. Yachts are usually hand-made and are incredibly labor intensive to maintain. Sports teams are big employers, and drive construction and economic development in the areas which the

        • by khallow (566160)

          We're already at a point of labor oversupply.

          Because the demand for labor has been artificially suppressed in the developed world, not because of technology.

      • Yep.

        Isn't the whole economic history of the world a history of increasing productivity; i.e. decreasing need for labor?

        Yet somehow dystopia never arrives, well, unless there is some massive government program undertaken to stave off unemployment, which perversely gives us lovely economic utopias like the Great Depression and the Soviet Union.

    • Is it zero? Can we be legitimately concerned about indefinite human unemployment and the long-term phasing out of capitalism yet?

      The last few will probably be stubborn; but today's technology has decimated [nationmaster.com] agricultural-sector employment throughout the developed world already.

      In the case of Australia, farmers represent a whopping 1.7% of the population, so even their total extirpation as an employment class would be relatively minor shift. Probably one with substantial cultural resonance; but just not that big in absolute or relative terms.

      • 1.7% of the population is a much different figure than 1.7% of the working class. Granted, it's still probably only 3 or 4% of the working class but that's still almost 400,000 people.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        The last few will probably be stubborn; but today's technology has decimated agricultural-sector employment throughout the developed world already.

        The last few won't be stubborn, they'll die. I don't know how many stories I heard about how their dad or granddad was or is running the farm, but nobody wants to take over. Alternatively, that the kids are keeping the farm running until the old man dies but no longer. If you have younger people running farms then it's typically big and automated or they're aiming for a gourmet niche with self made products. They just had a documentary with two such people, both 70 years old that have worked on their small

        • "small farm" is the problem. In Europe, small farms are finally consolidating again into larger economic units. For decades, communism forced consolidation, but much of that was undone again after communism. The people that are going to have to change are the gypsies, since the need for seasonal workers will decline further.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Can we be legitimately concerned about indefinite human unemployment and the long-term phasing out of capitalism yet?

      Phasing out of capitalism? Ha ha, no. Not smoothly anyway. Robots replacing labor is the ultimate form of capitalism, as only those who own the means of production will have any direct stake in the wealth produced.

      Oh, but it won't be completely human-free; there will be maintenance techs, designers, and operators of robots to continue to claim to be "real, hard-working Americans" and angrily oppose any scheme to redistribute wealth to those who don't own or directly support capital as taking away from th

      • That's one side of the coin, and the're some tendencies that really point in that direction - the most important being the capital needed for automation. Automation is horribly expensive up front, but pays off over the long run.

        But as an automation engineer I really hope we can find some way to stop this madness before it goes too far down that path. I don't do automation because I want to enable the rich, I do automation because I want to help lower the prices of goods so that everybody are able to afford

    • You are assuming that farm jobs are jobs people want. In areas where there are a lot of farm jobs available, there are usually a shortage of qualified individuals willing to do them. Ag work is long hours under an unpredictable range of environmental conditions in general, but animal work adds in the vageries that come with a thinking animal that is frequently stronger, bigger and more numerous than you are. Every farm job I've ever had was open for several months before it was I filled it. Many times I was
    • by Animats (122034)

      Not very many, and declining every year. Actual number for a big dairy farm: 30,000 cows, 400 employees. Feeding, milking, and manure removal are almost entirely automated. Most of the people are dealing with calving, sick animals, and equipment maintenance.

  • Stealing a dog's job (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GerardAtJob (1245980) on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:41PM (#45437327)

    A simple dog is enough for this job, so why??

    • by Defenestrar (1773808) on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:57PM (#45437623)

      A simple dog? Dude, first of all have you ever tried to take apart and repair a dog? It's so tough that I've never seen one on iFixit - but it'd probably get a score worse than a MS device. Secondly, they require a complex biological fueling system; the waste stream? Bio---hazard!

      • I have, and their skin is super tough. Try stitching a dog up with a needle and thread - their skin is like old boot leather.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Not to mention that this robot has to be remote controlled by a human operator, making it far inferior to a dog.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:41PM (#45437331) Journal
    What sort of sick freak would drink robot milk?
  • As a kid who grew up on a farm and hated getting my boots stuck in pen muck and bovine shit.

  • I was looking forward to some good footage of a little robot scooting around a pasture. Instead I got a 6-second clip of a few cows and something zipping around behind them in what appears to be a time-lapse style shot.

    What kind of crap journalism is this?

  • just a large remote control car. If it does not do its task autonomously it is not a robot.
    • "The prototype needs to be operated by a human but it's hoped that in the future a version can be developed that will be fully automated."

      In other words, it's a robot prototype that's just missing a few features from the final build. It just happens to be one of the things that define "robot"

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Friday November 15, 2013 @04:06PM (#45437745)

    Man, when that day comes, I'm going to kick back in my tent and eat day two-day-old Food Bank bread all day--just take it easy, you know?

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Friday November 15, 2013 @04:19PM (#45437941)

    Now I'm an old farm boy and I've had to heard cows a few times. We ran a small dairy operation so I'm pretty familiar with the process. I can tell you that robots are simply not required, nor would they be worth the effort. Cows are only a bit harder to herd than ducks or sheep, but I can tell you that unless you are really stupid you could likely do it in your sleep. I know I did it in my sleep a few times....

    Cows will generally move themselves around the twice daily milking route without much input from you. Dairy cows are smart enough to remember what to do and instinctively follow the other cows if they don't know. At milking time, once we got one or two cows trained that they go into that holding pen and walk though that gate to get into the place where you get to eat grain and get milked. It was then eat, drink and repeat for days on end. All we ever really needed to do was to start up the milker and open and close the right gates, even when they where out grazing. They'd usually be waiting at the barn when we got there to milk and if not would come when the milker started up. Sometimes a newer cow would be balky and you'd have to crowd them into the barn, but after a few days they would catch on to the program.

    You simply don't need a robot to move cows around. In fact, some of the more productive dairy operations have "self milking". The cows decide when they get milked. They queue up, enter the milking stall and get milked all on their own schedule. It takes a bit of automation (a robot if you like) to get the milker on, but the cows move themselves around.

    Now, getting your robot to heard cats... THAT would be something. Herding Cows is something most people can do in their sleep.

    • Very true, but I see this device as more of a proof-of-concept for robots to work beside livestock in general. Pastured dairy cows are usually pretty dosile due to frequent handling, but what about range fed beef cattle? What about a robot to empty a broiler house or load turkey's without spooking them and losing birds due to acities or damaged breast meat? I'm not saying all of this will come to pass, but the possibilities are intriging.

      Also, this could potentially be used in conjuction with a robotic mi
      • by bobbied (2522392)

        I simply cannot see a good reason to automate all of this. With dairy operations you really need to personally interact with the cows on a regular basis. There is no better way to keep in touch with how the cows are doing than to observe them regularly. If you automate everything, you will loose the chance to catch and treat common ailments before the become real problems because you won't be with the cows.

        Beef cow operations are the same. You want to be regularly looking at your stock, if not every day

        • Your inability to see a reason does not mean one does not exist. Although, I don't disagree regarding the daily contact. However, on the farms I've visited that use robots, their direct human contact is not appreciably lower, it is only the type of interaction that has changed.These cows milk themselves so they are not rushed in the parlor by a hired hand trying to get done with their shift or this particular chore faster, which is interaction the cows are probably better off without. Instead the herdsman h
    • What is it that " Most dairy farmers in Australia" are doing wrong that causes them injuries that may benefit from robots? And why would they do that?

    • by trawg (308495)

      Now, getting your robot to heard cats... THAT would be something. Herding Cows is something most people can do in their sleep.

      Presumably, that is the point - take a rather boring job that humans have to do, and make it so a robot can do it.

  • BBC News Technology: "Cannot play media. You do not have the correct version of the flash player."

    More like "BBC News Technology: Cannot play media. You do not have the correction version of the RealNetworks player."

    This is 2013, H.264 VIDEOS CAN PLAY DIRECTLY IN BROWSERS NOW unless you use open-source crap.
  • That's old. Here's a current model fully automatic milking robot. [youtube.com] The cows aren't pushed around. They're fed tastier food at the milking robot, so they go there willingly. Milk cows need and want to be milked; it relieves pressure. They're herd animals, and will mostly do what the other cows are doing. By exploiting normal cow behavior, the cows do part of the work, and the milking robot does the rest. RFID tags on the cows and tracking computers will detect cows that are having problems.

    That's not a pr

    • by Lennie (16154)

      Yes, that was exactly what I was going to post, this herding robot is just a such a stupid idea.

  • A four-wheeled device, known as Rover, has been tested by a team at a University. It was used to move a group of convicts from a bus to a detention area. Researchers were amazed at how easily the convicts accepted the presence of the robot. They were not fazed by it and the herding process was calm and effective, they said. Robots are already used in the crime control process but the team wanted to see if they could be used in other areas.

  • This isn't useful for massive milk operations. Look at this thing:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjx0EgXflPM [youtube.com]

    Sure... they need a person to man that... but its only one person. One guy just putting the milking cups on as the thing spins.

    I'd like to see a rotary version of this milking machine. Something where the laser 3d scanner puts the cups on the cow and then shifts it over to the next stall. To be really useful this machine would have to deal with hundreds of cows at once.

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated. -- Poul Anderson

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