(Photo of the Wild Goose Chaser from Digi Labs’ website)
Digi Labs resides in the Boatworks building, tucked between 6Smith Steak House and Wayzata Brewing. There’s an abundance of natural light, a view of Lake Minnetonka and an above ground swimming pool in their lobby where they teach aquatic robots how to swim.
Digi is a tech incubator housing a handful of robotic startups. One of their residents is Poultry Patrol, designer of the Wild Goose Chaser -a small robot who knows a goose when it sees one and delights in chasing it away.
Digi is working on very specific areas of research and development, which makes “finding people who want to work on this essential,” said Erick Beall, the CEO of Hema Imaging, a thermal imaging and computer vision startup in the Digi space. So when the need arose to hire robotics and machine learning developers, Digi turned to SciTech, a free internship program that not only helped them hire the talent they needed, but reimbursed them for half of the interns’ wages (up to $2,500 per student).
A bot for birds
The team behind Poultry Patrol made some headlines a couple of years ago when they started showing their little goose chaser at work. After a while, however, the question arose, “what can we do apart from chasing geese?”
Digi found their answer once they considered another common bird in the state. Minnesota, as it turns out, is the country’s leading producer of turkey. Robotic Engineer Jack Kilian and his team did some research and quickly identified a need within the state’s turkey market, so they went out to see if they could solve it.
Not long ago, Digi deployed its first Poultry Patrol bot in a local turkey barn. This robotic security guard navigates the rows of turkey pens and uses its image recognition technology to identify if anything is amiss.
If you teach a bot to chase
Amalia Schwartzwald, an aerospace engineering major at the University of Minnesota, was brought on as an intern through SciTech last summer to help develop some of these very specific robotic applications.
“The ability to work on a variety of things was very appealing,” Schwartzwald said.
Somedays Schwartzwald was in the office collaborating with the team. Somedays she was working remote over Slack, developing programming for the bot localization. And somedays she and Kilian went to the turkey barns to test the bots on site. In the end, she gained far more than just programming experience, adding business experience and communication skills to her repertoire.
“Molly has really helped by reorganizing some of our code,” Kilian said. “Because of her, our new deployments are faster and more efficient.”
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