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Thursday, October 11, 2012 11:02 AM

$210,000 Cow Milking Robot; Presenting the "Astronaut A4 - A Natural Way of Milking"; How Far Off is the Completely Robotic Farm?

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Farmers seeking to eliminate nearly all labor associated with milking cows can take a look at the Lely Astronaut A4 system.

Cows walk into a chamber attracted by higher quality food, the machine attaches itself to the cow, measures output quality, temperature, and when finished the cows walk out. There is no manual labor or oversight. Farmers can sleep in or do other chores.

Bloomberg reports on the $210,000 Cow-Milking Robot

The A4 does not require a human being at any point in the milking process, leaving farmers free to cook dinner, work the books, or play Parcheesi. That’s because no one has to move a cow into the milking box. The animal goes there on its own because it knows there is feed there (the cows are fed traditionally, but the A4 contains higher-protein food, and cows are really good at knowing what they’re eating and, more important, what they want to eat). The front of the box has a trough where a cow can eat a measured amount of grain while it’s being milked.

The A4 scans a cow’s collar to determine which cow it is. The machine has a full history of that cow’s milk production and feeding habits, based on previous visits, and can tailor the amount of feed the cow receives and the rate of pulsation at the teat to produce the most milk.

The A4 also knows the cow’s milking schedule: If a cow tries to come back for milking too soon after the last session, the feed trough swings away, the gate opens, and the cow will walk out of the box. If a cow hasn’t come through the system in a while, the A4 will alert the farmer.

Once a cow is in the box, a carbon-fiber and stainless-steel robotic arm moves under the cow, scans it with lasers to find the teats, and attaches four teatcups in a matter of seconds. A video camera mounted above the cow measures the animal’s position in three dimensions. Should the cow move in any direction, the robotic arm will move in concert.

The A4 can handle about 180 milkings a day, which usually translates to 60 cows milked three times daily. Total cost for a single unit, installed, is around $210,000. And the crazy thing was this: After seeing this fully automatic, 3D-camera-enabled, laser-scanning, carbon-fiber-equipped, spectral analyzing system, $210,000 didn’t seem all that much to me.
Completely Robotic Farms

The A4 is described as a "Natural Way of Milking". I fail to see anything "natural" about it. However, it certainly looks like a fantastic way of lowering labor costs and increasing productivity.

How far off is the completely robotic farm where driverless machines till the soil and plant crops, and driverless combines harvest the corn, wheat, and soybeans?

In many respects, for some crops, it's already here.

Farm and Ranch Guide reports Combine ‘speaks’ to driverless tractor pulling grain cart
September 30, 2012
Corn and soybean harvest is gearing up at farms throughout the Midwest.

At a few farms in Iowa and Illinois this harvest season, there will be less manpower than usual operating the big machinery out in the fields.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary going on. But look closer and you’ll see there’s no one driving the tractor.

Driverless tractors are becoming all the rage these days. A few companies are developing their own driverless tractors, realizing that harvesting and planting are labor-intensive and there isn’t always labor available these days.

But many of the driverless tractors being manufactured are small single units. Kinze Manufacturing, based in Williamsburg, Iowa, is the first company to have complete autonomous planting and harvesting technology utilizing regular-sized tractors and combines that communicate with each other, said Rhett Schildroth, product manager for Kinze Manufacturing.

“This is really state-of-the-art technology that works in real time to seed or harvest a crop,” Schildroth said.

The Kinze driverless technology is placed in the combine and tractor and both machines communicate with each other so harvest runs smoothly, he said.
The Kinze system can plant, fertilize, and harvest crops. It operates by GPS and comes with sensors that can detect objects (hopefully like children, dogs, deer and the like).

This is an over-simplification of course but let me ask: Farm workers? Who needs em?

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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