Australia is facing a human labor shortage in the area of sheep-shearing, just at a time when demand for wool has been increasing. The country has around 73 million sheep and approximately 2,800 shearers.
To try and tackle this problem, the industry association Australian Wool Innovation has been researching and developing robotic sheep-shearing systems. (See video below.)
The organization has been testing delta robots as well as robotic arms. The ones shown in the main picture above were made by Rethink Robotics, which was recently effectively taken over by Hahn Group.
AWI says this project is a scoping study to “develop a comprehensive understanding of how modern robotics technology could work within the shearing profession”.
The key criteria that guided the project are:
- embed shearing industry leaders as advisors to the engineers;
- ensure the safety and welfare of the animal;
- ensure the safety and welfare of the shearer; and
- ensure the quality of wool harvested.
“Incorporating modern robotics into some elements of the process of shearing offers the potential to enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of both shearers and sheep,” says AWI.
The robotic system is being designed to reduce some of the physical strains and risks when shearing, including shearers being bent over for an extended period of time creating a strain on the back, and instead allowing the shearer to work in a safer and comfortable more upright position.
The project has successfully used robotic technology to mimic the movements of shearing along the body of a life-size 3D printed sheep.
The next phase of the project will use the new knowledge of robotic technology and refine the software and hardware of the technology for commercial potential in the wool harvesting industry.
The use of the 3D printed sheep ensured no sheep were used in the testing of the prototype and therefore no sheep were put at risk of being harmed in the testing of this technology.