Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Robots Could Bring Changes to Cowboy Jobs in Australia

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Robots Could Bring Changes to Cowboy Jobs in Australia

Article excerpt

An Australian professor is developing a robot to monitor the health of grazing livestock, a development that could bring big changes to a profession that's relied largely on a low-tech approach for decades but is facing a labor shortage. Salah Sukkarieh, a robotics professor at the University of Sydney, sees robots as necessary given how cattlemen are aging. The average age of a farmer in Australia is 52, according to the Australian Farm Institute.

Sukkarieh is building a four-wheeled robot that will run on solar and electric power. It will roam pastures alongside livestock and monitor the animals using cameras, thermal sensors and infrared. A computer system will analyze video footage to determine whether a cow is limping. Radio tags on the animals will measure temperature changes.

The quality of pasture will be tracked by monitoring the shape, color and texture of grass. That way, cattlemen will know whether they need to move their herd to another field for nutrition purposes. He plans to run trials later this year and is aiming for the final product to cost about as much as an ATV.

Machines have largely taken over planting, watering and harvesting crops such as corn and wheat, but the monitoring of cattle has gone through fewer changes.

For Texas cattleman Pete Bonds, a former president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, it's increasingly difficult to find workers interested in careers watching livestock.

"It's 110 degrees and you're wearing a coat and bull-hide leggings and no air gets through, Bonds said. "Getting a good enough man to be able to go through that brush and take it, there's not any of them left.

But Bonds doesn't believe a robot is right for the job. Years of experience in the industry - and failed attempts to integrate technology - have convinced him that the best way to check cattle is with a man on a horse. …

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