Davies' company IceRobotics has just received a $157,000 grant from Britain's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to develop its rubbery manipulator - the 'continuum activator' - into a flexible, teat-seeking robotic arm. [...] It is made of a rubbery polymer, and fluid is pumped at varying pressures down three central chambers to make it extend, contract or bend at any angle. Finger-like manipulators at the arm's end add dexterity - stiff-armed robots "can have trouble catching all the angles teats can take", says Davies.
Using an infrared camera, the arm will zero in on one of a cow's warm teats and use it to locate the others. It will then place conventional suction-powered milking cups over each of them. [...]
Davies says that the strength of his device is its softness. "I build robots that can shake hands with people without the risk of slicing their head off," he says.
But its not just robotics that's preventing every dairy farm from going automatic, notes Meijering - it's also the cows. Some animals happily visit existing robotic milkers day and night. But in every herd there are a stubborn few that spurn automation, prefering the human touch. "Several cows have to be fetched a couple of times a day," says Meijering, which makes the cost of robotic milking of large herds difficult to justify for the time being.
Teat-seeking robot to help cows milk themselves
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