New Zealand farmers have new tool: Drones that bark like dogs

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You’ve probably read about robots replacing human labor. But a new report suggests humans aren’t the only ones who might lose their jobs. In New Zealand, farmers are using drones to herd and monitor livestock. The drones are assuming a job that highly intelligent dogs have held for more than a century. The robots haven’t replaced the dogs entirely, Radio New Zealand reports. However, they have appropriated one of the animal’s most potent tools: barking.

The DJI Mavic Enterprise is a $3,500 drone favored by farmers. It has a feature that lets the machine record sounds and play them over a loudspeaker. This gives the machine the ability to mimic its canine counterparts. Corey Lambeth is a shepherd on a sheep and beef farm. He told RNZ that the machines are surprisingly effective. “That’s the one thing I’ve noticed when you’re moving cows and calves, that the old cows stand up to the dogs, but with the drones, they’ve never done that,” he said. Lambeth noted that means the drones move livestock faster, with less stress, than the dogs do.

Farmers told RNZ that the drones come in handy for more than just herding cows and sheep. The robots allow farmers to monitor their land from afar. They can also monitor water and feed levels and check on livestock health without disturbing the animals. An agricultural drone hovers over a farmer’s crops. Rentoul told RNZ last spring that a two-hour herding job used to require two people and two teams of dogs. Now it can be accomplished in 45 minutes using a single drone. “Being a hilly farm where a lot of stuff is done on foot, the drones really saved a lot of man hours,” he said. Shepherds often must walk half an hour or more to check remote parts of the farm for sheep. “The drone does the higher bits that you can’t see” from the ground, Rentoul says. It saves a lot of time.  Farmers all over the world are using drones.

In South Africa, they monitor crop health from above, which boosts harvests, according to CNN. In California, winemakers use drones with sensors to grow healthier grapes, according to MIT Technology Review. Drones fly closer to the ground. Because of this, they’re able to provide high-resolution images. These images are less expensive than hiring someone to fly over a field in a manned aircraft, the publication reported.

In New Zealand, farmers say some dogs already are learning to work alongside drones. They identify the machines as more coworker than foe. Rentoul says that a good herding dog will be able to figure out how to work with the drones.  For now, farmers say, there’s still a need for herding dogs. They have a longer lifespan than drones and can work in bad weather. Also, they don’t require an electrical socket every few hours to recharge. “There’s definitely going to be places for dogs always on the farm,” Lambeth said. “The one downside of the Mavic [drones] or anything electronic is you still need to bring them in and charge them.”

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