Could robots replace hourly employees in cage-free houses?

Colin Usher presented a robotic technology to reduce labor and potential contamination opportunities in broiler breeder and cage-free table egg layer houses.

Meredith Johnson Headshot
Courtesy of Georgia Tech University
Courtesy of Georgia Tech University

Cage-free layer houses are labor intensive due to tasks such as assessing equipment or picking up floor eggs and mortalities. Additionally, it is well known that humans are the primary vector for disease and contamination in layer houses if the proper biosecurity measures are not followed.

To address these two issues, Colin Usher, senior research scientist and interim branch chief for the robotics branch in the Intelligent Sustainable Technologies Division at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, presented a robotic technology to reduce labor and potential contamination opportunities in broiler breeder and cage-free table egg layer houses during the 2021 Poultry Tech Summit Webinar Series on November 4. 

“Its difficult to say that we can eliminate the needs for farmers to enter the houses entirely, but there are a lot of tasks that robots can do.” Usher began.

The university has developed a “Generation 3 prototype” that has a series of sensors with 2D and 3D cameras and an automated arm for tasks such as picking up floor eggs with at least 90% accuracy on the first try. “Field testing shows so far that we have an average pick of one minute per egg. That doesn’t mean that were picking an egg a minute, it means that once the robot detects the egg on the floor, it is taking approximately one minute to drive up to it, deploy the arm, pick it up and place it in the container.”

Usher explained that the robot can sense the environment, map out the floor area and generate smart paths using algorithms to ensure they are covering the entire floor of the house while remembering where it has already been. “We want to dynamically sense and interact with the chickens, we don’t want to run over them or harm them,” stated Usher. “From an animal welfare perspective, there is the question of is the interaction detrimental or not to their wellbeing. We were able to show that the birds in our study were more comfortable with the robots than with people.”

Additionally, the robots have the capability to provide a live camera feed that can be observed from a smart phone. “Even if you’re on vacation, you can see what’s going on in your houses,” added Usher.

Growout House RoboticsCourtesy of Georgia Tech University


The robots have the capacity to detect the microclimate of the house including temperature, humidity levels, gas concentration and light levels. This could enable producers to reduce the prevalence of floor eggs by detecting where clusters of the eggs exist, identify that specific area’s microclimate and make recommendations to prevent birds from laying there by changing that environment.

Usher recommends that each layer house have its own robot and believes that each robot would be about a $20,000 investment for producers to replace an hourly employee. “The payback on these robots is estimated to be $80-90 thousand within one year on a typical five house farm with egg prices at approximately 51 cents per dozen.” 

What’s Next

For more on the technologies set to advance the poultry industry, join industry-changing innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, technology experts, investors and leading poultry producers at the Poultry Tech Webinar Series, scheduled for November 11, 17, 30 and December 2.

During the webinar series, industry experts will preview what’s coming next – from prospective solutions to developing technology – for the poultry industry. 

This webinar series is proudly sponsored by: Arm & Hammer, Aviagen, Baader, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cargill, Ceva, Chore-Time, Cobb, Evonik, Marel, Phibro Animal Health, Staubli, and Zoetis.

Visit our website for more details on the webinar series, topics and speakers.

Register for free today and join us for a glimpse at the future of the poultry industry.

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