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Robots with natural movement that milk cows


Scottish company IceRobotics will develop a new generation of dairy farm robots, working in a way that is similar to an elephant’s trunk, that can milk cows without the presence of the farmer, thanks to an Invention & Innovation award of £98,000 from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts), the organisation that invests in UK creativity and innovation.

While studying for his PhD, Dr Bruce Davies, a senior lecturer at Heriot-Watt University, came up with the idea for a new breed of robots capable of ’biomimetic locomotion’: machines that move using the same patterns that are found in nature. To respond to opportunities to exploit his invention in dairy automation, Bruce set up Edinburgh-based IceRobotics with Robert Boyce who is trained in business administration and has direct experience in technology enterprise development and Dr Andrew Peacock, who has a background in artificial intelligence and sensor system technologies.

New research is showing that better milk yields can be obtained from cows if they can be milked more regularly at times of their own choosing, with one of the best times being between 11pm and 3am just before the cow settles down to sleep. This is consistent with the milking patterns of a calf but impractical in terms of traditional dairy farming based on herding cows to be milked twice a day. The alternative is the proposed Biomimetic robotic milking system technology of IceRobotics, operating 24 hours a day. Technology of this kind could result in a 10% to 20% increase in milk yield in over 200,000 medium sized diary farms across the Europe and offer improved hygiene and health for the herd. The technology also has the potential to be applied to milking goats and sheep.

IceRobotics will develop new generation biomimetic robot technology by mimicking the mechanical and sensory systems found in biology. This will provide greater dexterity and improved safety and hygiene compared to current robot technology. Their design incorporates three bellows that are placed in parallel in a triangular arrangement that produces movement by changing position as the pressure inside it is changed, working in a way that is similar to an elephant’s trunk. By using different pressures in each bellow a range of bending movements can be produced that are precise and can be applied to handle delicate objects.

Through mimicking the motion and dexterity found in nature, this biomimetic technology offers the potential to greatly extend the current boundaries of the robotics sector not only in dairy farming but also in many other sectors. NESTA is proud to be able to be supporting a cutting edge project that could radically alter how and in what environments robots are used.

Widening its search for investment, IceRobotics has been selected by Connect Scotland to present at its Springboard conference in Glasgow on 11 March 2003. Springboard is recognised as Scotland’s leading investment showcase for pre-start and start-up technology companies and attracts a large number of investors, business angels and venture capitalists. NESTA is also lending its support as a new sponsor of Springboard.

Jeremy Newton, NESTA Chief Executive, said:

"This award to IceRobotics is living proof that NESTA is uncovering innovative ideas from all corners of the UK and offering them the chance to thrive. The idea could be an excellent investment for NESTA and the UK as a whole."

Joseph Meaney | alfa
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