Chicken House Roomba

When they’re lying around lethargically in a messy house, a robot not unlike a Roomba can clean up their mess and nudge them to get some exercise…Chickens, that is. Not those of us working remotely in the pandemic.

Chickens need exercise, and they stay healthier in clean houses.

Colin Usher of Georgia Tech has a robot that can help with that. It can clean and disinfect poultry houses. At the same time, it’ll gently encourage the chickens to get up and move around. The robot’s sensors can measure temperature, humidity, radiation, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

And, while it’s in the chicken house, it can also remove dead birds and find and collect all the eggs. The robot can collect 90% of the eggs.

With one robot in each chicken house operating 24/7, chickens can be monitored well without cross-contamination from one house to another. Less human presence in the houses would also reduce the dangers to humans.

With that level of cleaning going on, the poultry houses would be less of an environmental issue, too.

Chicken exercise

Getting the chickens to move around a bit more is more of a side effect of the robots than a specific job. As the robot moves, Roomba-like, through the poultry house, chickens will usually move out of its way naturally.

If they don’t, the robot will stop and give the chicken a chance to move, then nudge it gently with its bumper. If a second nudge doesn’t get the chicken to move, the robot will recalculate and move around it.

Through deep learning, the robot learns to identify and collect eggs and to interact with chickens. Research at Georgia Tech has confirmed that chickens are not harmed by the robots. In fact, a cleaner environment and a little more activity is good for them.

Benefits of automation

Automation helps people by limiting the number of dangerous or repetitive tasks they have to do. Automation keeps human beings out of toxic environments.

In the case of the chicken-tending robots, Usher points out that poultry houses may currently be entered multiple times in a day by multiple people — one to shoo the chickens around, another to collect eggs, a third to disinfect the poultry house, and so on. The robot chicken keeper can remain in a single poultry house and do all the required tasks. This reduces contamination.

The connection with COVID-19 is obvious.

Usher points out that interest in projects like his has spiked during the pandemic. “They also remind us that similar plans for robotic assistance were created after the 2015 Ebola outbreak, but the funding and motivation dropped off when the outbreak was resolved. Perhaps interest in these systems can be sustained a little longer this time.”

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