Minnesota is the largest producer of turkeys in the country, having hatched and housed a whopping 37 million birds in 2022. As a hub for agriculture and technology, it should come as no surprise that these two Minnesota industries would mix. It’s the creative integration of robots for farm labor, however, that’s worth clucking about.
Large turkey barns like the ones found on John Zimmerman’s farm in Northfield, Minnesota, require a lot of maintenance and regular observation to ensure the flock is healthy and safe. Back in 2019, Zimmerman partnered with Wayzata-based Rover Robotics and Digi Labs to see if their newest robot, Poultry Patrol, was up for the task.
With its square body and four wheels, this waist-high robot drives up and down the length of the turkey barn, using its periscope-like camera to check for any anomalies that the farmer should be aware of. In time, Poultry Patrol would be outfitted with automated tools, enabling it to till bedding and identify and remove deceased birds from the barn, thereby maintaining cleanliness and reducing the spread of disease.
Poultry Patrol was developed from a fully-automated model of bot called the Wild Goose Chaser, who used image recognition technology to identify geese when they landed on a pre-mapped lawn. The little rover was then programed to drive after them with the goal of chasing the pesky birds away. As a partner with MnTech’s internship program, Digi Labs hired two SciTech students to help develop the technology for these robots.
Other SciTech employers are actively contributing their tech to the future of robotics in farming. Like the Rowbot, that uses GPS mapping to autonomously navigate and seed rows in crop fields. Or Sentera who produces drone hardware to collect live, visual crop data and the software to organize and analyze it.
So, as you sort through your post-Thanksgiving musings, keep in mind the talented technologists, farmers and their robots who worked hard to bring such a bountiful harvest to your table.