Bovine invention

Published: Wednesday 31 March 1999

Imagine how irritating it must be for the cows, to be milked when they least expect it. So in a move that brings compassion and technology together, Silsoe Research Institute, an agricultural and scientific research institute based in Bedfordshire, UK, has developed a robot milkmaid with laser-assisted vision system that allows cow to be milked only when they feel like it. Milking twice per day imposes an unnatural regime on the cows, explained Sue Spencer, a member of a team, which developed the robot. Further, overfull udders could induce lameness and other ailments in cows, she added, talking to the British science journal New Scientist . The new milking robot, like others, uses an arm to attach its milking cups to the cows' teats. But finding the teats could prove be a difficult task. So the robot finds the teats with the help of a camera and two lasers mounted on the arm. Cows desiring to be milked walk into an open barn where the robot is housed. Each cow wears an electronic collar that identifies it, so the robot can decide if the animal is due to be milked. The system is currently being tested on a herd of 30 cows on a Swedish farm.

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