SwagBot is the world's first cattle herding robot and was developed by scientists to help Australia's livestock farmers. Roselle Chen reports.
Meet SwagBot - the world's first cattle rounding robot, developed by Australian scientists to aid the country's livestock farmers. Professor Salah Sukkarieh heads the research team at the University of Sydney, which developed the robot. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS AND INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS, SCHOOL OF AEROSPACE MECHANICAL & MECHATRONIC ENGINEERING, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY, SALAH SUKKARIEH SAYING: "We haven't seen anything like this, there have been robots that have been used on cattle stations but they have just been your four-axe, your four wheel, fixed-axis robotic systems. Here what you have is a omni-directional robot, can move in any direction, has an articulation mechanism as well, so it's a much more agile type of robot." Propelled on four wheels, Swagbot is capable of navigating over obstacles and can be remotely navigated by farmers. The robot remains in development, but Sukkarieh believes it could be in production within three years. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS AND INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS, SCHOOL OF AEROSPACE MECHANICAL & MECHATRONIC ENGINEERING, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY, SALAH SUKKARIEH SAYING: "So the biggest problem that we have been told is about 24/7 monitoring, so that they can, especially around animal welfare, so they can have robotic systems that are out there constantly looking at the animals, especially dealing with any animals that might be sick for example, that's really where the greatest benefit is. And also at the same time, in Australia anyway, we are talking about very large properties, 4,000 hectares up to 40,000 hectares for a standard average cattle farm and in those situations, you're only dealing with a grower and his wife, or a grower and her husband and it's just the two of them. So being able to have tools or systems that can actually trial or tow things around from point A to point B, monitoring where the animals are, making sure the fence lines are ok, things like that are what becomes important." Australia is one of the largest cattle exporting countries in the world, but the average age of producers is rising all the time. The task is made more difficult by a labor shortage. The challenge threatens to undermine Australia's hope of boosting agricultural output to profit from rising Asian demand for red meat, in particular. Technology offers the best hope to arrest Australia's slowing productivity, necessary if Australia is to reach its target of being the main food supplier to Asia.