The livestock on these far-flung farms are monitored infrequently – sometimes only once or twice a year – meaning they often fall ill or get into trouble without anyone knowing.
A two-year trial, which starts next month, will train a farmbot to herd livestock, keep an eye on their health, and check they have enough pasture to graze on.
Sick and injured animals will be identified using thermal and vision sensors that detect changes in body temperature and walking gait, says Salah Sukkarieh of the University of Sydney, who will carry out the trial on several farms in central New South Wales.
The robot, which has not yet been named, is a more sophisticated version of an earlier model, Shrimp, which was designed to herd groups of 20 to 150 dairy cows.
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During the trial, Sukkarieh and his colleagues will fine-tune the robot s software to make it adept at spotting ailing livestock, and to ensure that it can safely navigate around trees and over mud, swamps and hills.
Every advance in robot technology stirs up fears about human redundancy, says Sukkarieh, but farm labouring vacancies are increasingly difficult to fill and can be replaced by jobs in robot maintenance.