Old MacDonald had a ‘bot

When the robots come, how will they come? Here’s one answer: the robot sheepdog. Researchers in Australia have built a robot that does an admirable job herding cattle, as you can see in the video below.

The researchers cite some advantages that robots have over people and animals. They don’t get tired and they don’t mind long hours or night shifts, so long as they get to charge up every now and again. They can gather data continuously, monitoring the health of individual animals or recording when intruders appear.

In watching the video, I was reminded of something I read in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan spends much of the book profiling the Virginia farmer Joel Salatin. One of Salatin’s innovative farming techniques is to use movable electrified fences to create small pastures that can be moved to a different location every day. These “walking pastures” allow Salatin to slowly cycle the cows around, preventing overgrazing and distributing the manure around the property. A second fenced area moves chickens around in the wake ot the cows, But the mobile fence operation is labor intensive. A robot dog would give a farmer the dynamic and programmable ability to move a virtual fence around at will. Even more effectilvely than Salatin’s electric fence, a robo-dog-fence could calmly guide cows to wherever their mouths and manure are needed.

Will robot-tipping be a fraternity sport in the future?