Robotics could streamline poultry production management

Automated solutions could monitor animal welfare and perform basic husbandry tasks, reducing the need for people to enter poultry facilities.

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Paul Fleet | bigstockphoto.com
Paul Fleet | bigstockphoto.com

Automated solutions could monitor animal welfare and perform basic husbandry tasks, reducing the need for people to enter poultry facilities, Dr. Colin Usher, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, said on September 29 during the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) 55th National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing, and Live Production.

“The big problem with commercial chicken houses is that they require people to be in them a lot. Whether it’s picking up floor eggs, removing mortality or checking on the equipment or the status of the bird, it requires a lot of manual labor,” Usher explained. “What we have been doing is trying to evaluate how robotics can reduce or remove the need for people to go into those houses.”

Interest in robotic and other automated solutions to replace the need for manual labor skyrocketed this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Playing chicken

The robots navigate throughout the poultry facility, moving from end to end in a grid much like a Roomba does when it vacuums a house. Using a suite of sensors and 2D and 3D cameras, it can be used to pick up eggs and deceased birds and monitor animal welfare.

“In its navigation routine, the robot actually interacts with the chickens. What I mean by that is it’s actively sensing the chickens and will nudge the chickens if they won’t get out of the way,” Usher said.

“Essentially, it plays chicken with the chickens and encourages them to move out of the way so that it can reach its waypoints. If the chickens don’t move out of the way, the robots can adjust and use another path.”

Commercial testing for the robotic solution should begin shortly.

“We’re in the field-testing phase. We were locked out of houses with COVD-19, but we’re just about to start testing egg-picking at a commercial farm within the next few weeks where we’ll do a lot of polishing and benchmarking for the robot,” Usher concluded.

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