A natural solution to automatic milking

Related tags Milk Cattle

Scottish company IceRobotics is a step closer to bringing its
robotic milking technology to market following a second round of
investment from the National Endowment for Science, Technology
& the Arts (NESTA). The company is developing a sophisticated
vision-based sensor that passes 3D co-ordinates of a cow's teats to
an attached robotic milking arm.

And what makes this technology so innovative, according to commercial director Robert Boyce, is the fact that it is bio mimetic; in other words it mimics biological actions as opposed to robotic ones. This enables the company to use robotic technology in an organic motion, which is kinder to cattle and more suited to the farmyard.

"Our technology is not designed for the factory - it is designed to operate in the real world,"​ Boyce told FoodProductionDaily.com."It is capable of interacting directly with the environment. The vision technology is modelled on the human eye, and uses stereo vision to perceive depth. This allows it to pass more reliable co-ordinates on to the robotic arm."

The robotic arm component uses a dexterous mechanical actuator that bends like an elephant's trunk, so that fragile or delicate objects like a cow's teat can be easily manoeuvred without causing injury.

IceRobotics is confident that this technology will help to improve hygiene for livestock and increase milk yield for farmers. Research has long shown that cows produce more milk if they are milked more frequently.

IceRobotics believes that its robotic milking system will enable farmers to milk cows more often - and the farmer doesn't even have to be present. The firm claims that milk yields can be increased by as much as 20 per cent due to the cow being milked three or even four times a day.

Automated milking systems in the diary industry are still relatively new, with around 2,000 systems having been installed worldwide so far. The potential market for robotic milking systems is estimated at 180,000 farms worldwide, and two thirds of these are expected to install a robot milker over the next 20 years.

"This is the way the industry is going,"​ said Boyce. "The first robotic milking system was developed in 1992, and there are now systems installed worldwide."​ In addition, Boyce believes that his company's vision-based tracking technology has the potential to replace laser-guided milking systems.

NESTA​ originally invested £98,000 in IceRobotics in 2002 to allow the company to design and build the technology and generate the commercialisation plan. This week, second round investment has been secured to finance the next phase of the company's development through to 2005.

"NESTA is proud to be making this second round investment in IceRobotics and we are confident that the company can go on to capitalise on its early success and achieve a sustainable commercial future,"​ said NESTA's innovation & invention director Mark White.

Since May 2000, NESTA has spent over £40 million on more than 387 awards.Boyce says that his company will launch its innovative teat tracker technology at the EU's automatic milking symposium at Lelystad, Netherlands. The event is being held 24 to 26 March 2004.

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