Got milk

Automated milking in dairy farms not only frees up valuable time for the farmer but can make for happier cows that produce higher yields of better-quality milk.

Jul 1st, 2009
Th Snapf1

Automated milking in dairy farms not only frees up valuable time for the farmer but can make for happier cows that produce higher yields of better-quality milk. To automatically identify and locate the teat positions on the cow’s udder as it steps into the milking box, teat-finding equipment has relied on laser triangulation and ultrasonic ranging—both with drawbacks such as moving parts and/or laser safety issues. The information derived from such a sensor is used to guide a robot arm to attach milking cups to the teats.

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Since cows are highly individual animals in behavior and appearance, a vision sensor must cope with variations in color and a live, moving animal in a naturally dirty environment. It is a complex task, requiring a high degree of accuracy. To develop a new generation of automated milking systems, GEA Farm Technologies (Bönen, Germany) has worked with LMI Technologies (Delta, BC, Canada; www.lmitechnologies.com) to adapt its Tracker 4000 teat-finding sensor, which is based on 3-D time-of-flight (TOF) ranging imagers.

Real-time image-processing algorithms running in the LMI FireSync processor extract teat and milking cup locations from the images, ignoring other objects in the field of view, like a cow’s leg or a swinging tail. Coordinate positions for teats and milking cup locations in a predefined coordinate system are delivered to the robot controller via Ethernet. The vision sensor is mounted on the actuator end of the cup-attachment robot arm and thereby enables a simultaneous verification of the milking cup position before attachment.

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