Shepherd: No one wants, needs a robot sheepdog

According tomedia, this is indeed a striking picture: a four-legged robot running on a grassy hillside, commanding a flock of sheep without seeing a human being. The seamless integration of futurism and agriculture is refreshing. But is this reality? Can robots really take on the work of a sheepdog?

The video above comes from New Zealand-based company Rocos, which this week announced a partnership with Boston Dynamics, the maker of the four-legged robot Spot. The New Zealand company is responsible for developing software for remote control of robots. In this video, it shows a potential use case for the robot– agriculture.

The Spot is equipped with payloads such as thermal, lidar, gas and high-resolution camera sensors to capture data in real time in rugged environments, and in agriculture, farmers can get more accurate and up-to-date production estimates, providing a new way to automate and a safer and more efficient business.

Shepherd: No one wants, needs a robot sheepdog

Now it’s clear that the video is primarily an interesting technical showcase, not a serious statement from Rocos or Boston Dynamics that robots will soon replace the Shepherd. But it also raises the tantalizing question: if that happens, how will the robot behave? Will agricultural practitioners accept them?

The answer is less optimistic. “Robots can be amazing tools to do a lot of things, but as a shepherd, it’s worthless and unpopular,” James Rebanks, a shepherd and author, toldmedia The Verge. People dealing with sheep don’t need or want to do this — it’s a fantasy. “

Rebanks points out that robots simply don’t have the motor skills or intelligence needed to do this demanding job, and they won’t have those capabilities for a long time. He also said the relationship between sheep and dogs — the driving force of two intelligent life — was crucial and was rooted in the evolutionary history of predators and prey. “Sheep obedience is based on carefully judged, carefully adjusted movements, because the dog’s eyes can act as a deterrent to them, and because the dog can eventually enforce discipline with its teeth. But he adds that this is not a good thing and not always needed, but it is an effective threat, “because sheep react because they evolve with wolves and are hunted.” “

He also points out that in Rocos’s video, it’s clear that the sheep didn’t really obey the robot at all.

Of course, it seems unfair to criticize the video, because neither Rocos nor Boston Dynamics sold their products as a replacement for the Sheepdog. But the video represents a concrete vision for the future of agriculture. Farm Automation is a fast-growing business for which companies are developing a range of technologies.