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MIT Technology Review

This robotic cowboy is waving trash bags to keep people from being kicked by cows

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A Nebraska cattle facility has turned to a robot to herd its cows—and keep its human workers safe.

Mooving cattle: Cattle are big. Females weigh about 1,500 to 1,800 pounds. And when you have to move thousands of the creatures a day, that’s a lot of weight trotting around. Employees working in close proximity are in danger of getting kicked or stepped on.

The low-tech robotic solution: A Cargill beef slaughter facility in Nebraska, has turned to a robot to keep more of its workers out of harm’s way. Now, admittedly, this is no shiny space-age bot. The 450-pound robot, made by the company Flock Free, is controlled by employees monitoring the scene from catwalks above. It follows the animals around, furiously waving trash bags on long sticks toguide the cows in the other direction.

Doing the dirty work: Robots are an attractive solution for dangerous industries like nuclear disaster repair or search and rescue. These are the jobs that people won’t care if bots take over. Is there a better long-term solution than noisy bags on wheels? Probably. But for now, it’s keeping workers safe and away from frustrated cows. “Run over the robot. That’s fine. We can rebuild it, fix it. We can buy a new one,” says cattle plant manager Brad Churchill. “But keeping our employees safe—that was the number one driver for me.”

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