A robot that watches over and analyzes broiler houses

The Spanish company Faromatics, SL, developed a poultry robot that doesn't interfere with the free movement of the birds. Learn how it works.

Ruiz B 90x90 Headshot
Josep Pinyol (left), a Spanish farmer, and Dr. Heiner Lehr, the developer of the robot, are testing out the potential of the technology on this farm near Lleida, Spain.
Josep Pinyol (left), a Spanish farmer, and Dr. Heiner Lehr, the developer of the robot, are testing out the potential of the technology on this farm near Lleida, Spain.

Faromatics is bringing precision agriculture to the poultry industry with the ChickenBoy robot. The ceiling-suspended device is already in use in Europe and could be coming to North America soon.

Dr. Heiner Lehr, the CEO of the Spanish company Faromatics Farm Robotics and Automation SL, said the robot is part of a larger concept known as precision agriculture. The concept calls on farmers to collect and use more information about their livestock or crops in order to better utilize finite resources and produce more food.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” Lehr said of precision agriculture. “It is to understand the animal as a partner in this business and to provide it with the best possible conditions adapted to their needs at this very time – not what we think at this time – and, through this, improve productivity.”

From the prototype to the ceiling

Faromatics was founded in July 2016. At that time, it launched the first prototype of the robot as a device that worked on the ground. After testing on farms in Europe, it became obvious sharing space with the birds wouldn’t work. Lehr said the birds’ movement to avoid the robot causes unwanted energy expenditure. Moreover, as the birds get bigger it gets harder for the robot to move through the house.

The company instead developed a robot that moved along rails suspended from the ceiling. The ChickenBoy was born. The device is already installed in houses in Spain, Holland and Germany. Installations in the United Kingdom and France are in the works, too.

The robot’s target grower

As is the nature of data collection and analytics technology, a potential ChickenBoy buyer must be committed to using the machine to optimize their operation in order to see a strong return on their investment. Faromatics’ software makes interpreting the data easier, but the grower must be willing to commit the time needed to understand all of the information the robot is collecting.

The robot can start working with 8,000 birds, but the ideal house size is between 20,000 and 60,000 birds. One unit is needed for each house. In addition, internet access is needed, which can be a limiting factor depending on the area and the country.

Once the farm is connected to the internet, the robot will work inside the house easily with the addition of a WiFi extender and, if there are no obstacles, the signal will work without any problems.

What can a robot do from the ceiling?

The ChickenBoy works by making observations in three areas:

  • Environmental conditions: Measuring temperature, relative humidity, the speed of air movement through the house and carbon dioxide levels throughout the house.
  • Health and welfare: Detecting mortality and carrying out digestion analysis.
  • Equipment: Detecting broken drinkers and wet spots in the litter created by excess moisture.

The robot comes with four extension slots, where extra modules can be installed for additional analytical functionality, such as broiler weighing, stress analysis, tracking the movement of certain diseases and the nitrogen content in the litter.

The grower can also stream video from the three cameras mounted on the robot or from another, separate camera installed in the ceiling which provides an overhead view.

The ChickenBoy can take photos, too. Photos can be taken by length – a new photo every 10 meters – by time – every few minutes or at predetermined times of the day – or by event – such as when it sees a dead bird or an excess of feces. It generates a photo gallery so the grower can review what the robot is seeing as it makes around the clock observations.

Big data in manure analysis

The ChickenBoy can perform a number of observations that can be analyzed and used to optimize the conditions in the house for ideal performance. Lehr said Faromatics’ flagship product is manure analysis. The device identifies manure and performs a spectral analysis to see if the droppings are healthy or if they indicate enteric disease.

A grower or farm manager typically does this work when they are inspecting the farm, but they do not track exactly how much feces there is and where it was nor do they try and find all of the droppings.

“Robots are very good for this type of task,” Lehr said. “From this, we can collect a lot of information. This is the gift of big data.”

Robots can determine if the problem in the house is always starting at the same place, examine the relationship between feed and water, find out if there is too much liquid or detect the cause of something that seems to start happening out of nowhere. The robot can also take photos for the veterinarian or live production manager to resolve the problem and possibly help make a better decision on using antibiotics.

Through the combination of a thermal camera and a visual camera, the ChickenBoy can observe warm manure which is helpful for this type of analysis. Then the information is processed by artificial intelligence.

“We already have 97 percent accuracy in the detection of bad manure,” Lehr said.

The robot and its data analysis power allow farmers to observe things they otherwise wouldn’t. One curious observation made by the ChickenBoy, Lehr said, involved different preferences between male and female birds. In farms producing both sexes, the females usually have 2 percent more moisture in the litter. With this knowledge in hand, he said growers can place their female birds in a place that best suits them such as a place with higher ventilation than the males. This kind of information can help lead to better performance and higher profits.

These observations about manure and other factors are preventative and represent potential savings, in both medication and less mortality. The device may perhaps even a greater reputation with their integrator.

Future of the technology

Lehr said there are many more possibilities to develop with the robotic technology, especially with the number of sensors that are available today. One potential use of the ChickenBoy in the future is monitoring and analyzing bird behavior.

“We started with broilers, but we are going to extend it within the poultry sector to turkeys, breeders and layers,” Lehr said. “I think this will happen over the course of five years."

The robot can collect mountains of data, but it still needs someone to make decisions and act based on that data. In the future, the machine may be able to make its own decisions based on the data it’s collecting. Lehr said the vision is for the device to one day be able to make automatic climate adjustments in the house based on its observations.


We hope to see you at the 2019 Poultry Tech Summit on November 20-22 at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia: www.wattglobalmedia.com/poultrytechsummit

Page 1 of 24
Next Page