business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

We've had some discussion here on MNB recently about the use of robots ... in part spurred by a recent BBC report about how Foxconn Technology Group - which supplies components to companies like Apple and Samsung - recently replaced 60,000 factory workers in China - with robots. And according to the story, this is just the beginning of an evolution that is occurring because "China is investing heavily in a robot workforce." (I found this inevitable but distressing, at least in part because it worries me that while the major political parties in the US are discussing how to save the coal industry, the Chinese are investing in robotics.)

Now, the Washington Post reports on how a Australian professor is developing a robot that can perform the tasks of a classically low-tech job - the cowboy.

According to the story, "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."

Until now.

Indeed, the Post notes that "Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, said a roving robot that stays with livestock 24-7 could be extremely useful given rising concerns about cattle thieves. Cattle tend to be located in remote locations and their value has risen, making them appealing targets."

It may end up being an Eye-Opener. It certainly sounds like it is time for an update of The Electric Horseman, the terrific Sydney Pollack movie from 1979 that starred Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, and Willie Nelson.

Cowboys ain't easy to love and they're harder to hold.
They'd rather give you a song than diamonds or gold.
Lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levis,
And each night begins a new day.
If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young,
He'll prob'ly just ride away...

KC's View: