U.S. researchers have developed a Walkman-like headset for cows. This device enables them to 'whisper wireless commands to cows to control their movements across a landscape -- and even remotely gather them into a corral.' In fact, it could help farmers to maintain cows behind virtual fences. According to the researchers, 'the circuit board contains a processor, data storage, WiFi for remote communication, audio and electrical stimulation electronics, a GPS receiver, and sensors such as magnetometers and accelerometers that record the body orientation and configuration of the animal.' While the first virtual fencing system was patented in 1973 (for domestic dogs!), commercial virtual livestock control systems still do not exist today. But read more...
You can see on the left "a grazing cross-bred beef cow wearing a directional virtual fencing (DVF) battery: (1) powered neck saddle device equipped with spring loaded electrodes (only left side pair shown 2) for providing electrical stimulation and left (3) and right (4) piezo speakers housed inside poly vinyl chloride (PVC) pipe for audio stimulation. A global positioning system (GPS) antenna (5) is located in the centre of a panel of solar cells (6). This prototype platform may appear clumsy but was remarkably robust during numerous field trials conducted between 2001 and 2005." (Credit: USDA/Agricultural Research Service). Here is a link to larger version of this picture.
This research project was initiated by Dean Anderson, Research Animal Scientist, a.k.a. the "Cow Whisperer", who works for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Here are some excepts from the latest ARS news release about Anderson and his work. "Anderson patented technology for virtual fencing termed Directional Virtual Fencing (DVF) that centered around giving cows 'left' and 'right' sensory signals to cause them to move away from an irritating suite of cues. [...] The commands vary from familiar 'gathering songs' sung by cowboys during manual round-ups, to irritating sounds such as sirens and even mild electric stimulation if necessary to get cows to move or avoid penetrating forbidden boundaries."
You can find more information about Anderson's project in an article published by The Rangeland Journal, a biannual journal of the CSIRO, Australia. The article was titled "Virtual fencing -- past, present and future" (Volume 29, Number 1, 2007, Pages 65-78).
Here is the beginning of the abstract. "Virtual fencing is a method of controlling animals without ground-based fencing. Control occurs by altering an animal’s behaviour through one or more sensory cues administered to the animal after it has attempted to penetrate an electronically-generated boundary. This boundary can be of any geometrical shape, and though unseen by the eye, is detected by a computer system worn by the animal. The most recent autonomous programmable systems use radio frequency (RF) signals, emanating from global positioning system (GPS) satellites to generate boundaries. Algorithms within a geographic information system (GIS) within the device's computer use the GPS and other data to determine where on the animal a cue, or cues, should be applied and for how long."
The full paper is available from CSIRO in an HTML version and as a PDF document (14 pages, 675 KB)
Of course, Anderson was not alone. He worked with engineers from MIT and with Daniela Rus, a professor at MIT at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and co-directs the CSAIL Center for Robotics. Here is a link to the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) Wiki page.
Here is more information about her Animals and Robots project. "The goal of this project is to develop computational approaches for studying groups of agents with natural mobility and social interactions. The agents in such systems can move on their own due to complex interactions between biotic and abiotic factors, culminating in behaviors that can be studied and modeled using physical data, and ultimately controlled. We will develop algorithms for adaptive data collection during a field experiment, post-experiment data analysis for modeling behavior, and control of the movement of the group using the learned models in field experiments and environment data from satellite imagery."
The MIT team provides additional details on this Cow Herding with Virtual Fences page. "This project seeks to develop tools for automatically generating dynamical models and control strategies for groups of animals based on recorded tracking data. It is envisioned that the resulting techniques will be useful for modelling and controlling a broad class of biological group phenomena including cow herding, bird flocking, insect swarming, and human crowd behavior. Specific applications are numerous. Notably, these tools would enable the monitoring and control of groups of people to alleviate foot traffic congestion, or to identify anomalous behavior. They would also enable the control of livestock to minimize environmental damage from over-grazing."
Sources: USDA/Agricultural Research Service News, June 6, 2008; and various websites
You'll find related stories by following the links below.