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STADY: Autonomous intelligent cleaning robot for stables

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When it comes to cleaning stables, let the robot do the dirty work

Cleaning stables is time-consuming and costly (with manual labour, taking six hours daily, costing EUR 30 000 per year). The STADY project has developed a ‘Cleaning-as-a-Service’ robotic system using a breakthrough navigation solution.

Digital Economy
Food and Natural Resources

Concrete floored livestock stables are relatively easy to keep clean using machines. But on the soft sandy ground of animal-friendly open stables, cleaning must be done manually several times a day. As this is labour intensive, it is usually only done for high-value animals like horses. The EU-supported STADY project developed the Zauberzeug robot which, when combined with navigation cameras and a mobile app, manoeuvres over soft ground, to detect and collect animal droppings, both indoors and outdoors. The team have been endurance-testing the system for horse stables since February and have presented the system to six farms for feedback to improve it. They hope to have full test installations running throughout 2020. The solution The team’s breakthrough development is the patented ‘outside-in tracking’ system. Incorporating multiple cheap cameras installed above the work area, this creates a map for the robot to navigate with 1 cm accuracy. This removes the need for sensors to be attached directly to the robot which would get dirty quickly, compromising their efficacy. Each camera can be installed in minutes by connecting it to a 5 Volt power supply (with a solar solution under development). Once all cameras are set up, a boundary is painted around the area to be cleaned. If necessary, obstacles like walls or poles can also be marked so that the robot ‘knows’ to navigate around them. When the robot drives into the cameras’ field of view, it automatically triggers calibration of the navigation system. “Our optical tracking solution had some problems with surface reflections from the robot, under bright sunlight. But we created a high contrast visual marker by cutting a pattern of holes into a box painted black on the inside which was fitted to the robot. This effectively traps sunlight in all conditions,” says project coordinator Mr Rodja Trappe. The robot detects, approaches and picks up each horse dropping delicately with a patented forked shovel mechanism. Then these are brought autonomously to a manure storage area, for later composting. As well as being able to drive below fences, the system can also be trained, using deep neural networks to improve its object detection. Promoting a more environment-friendly world The EU produces around 1.4 billion tonnes of manure every year. This has to be cleaned to avoid public health and pollution problems and to comply with the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC. STADY’s solution helps make this requirement economical, encouraging more animal-friendly stabling, which in turn helps prevent disease, while promoting sustainability. Indeed, applying the system to cattle and pigs would remove one of the impediments to letting them roam freely outside. The business model is to offer the solution as ‘Cleaning as a Service’, with the robot itself supplied for free. With minimum installation and maintenance requirements, this cuts the capital investment required by farmers. “Using our system, farmers now only pay about EUR 0.10 per horse dropping, saving about EUR 12 000 per year per stable (assuming about 50 horses). This is about a 45 % reduction in manual labour costs,” says Trappe. The team have applied for SME Instrument Phase 2 funding and are in negotiations with possible investors or licensees (such as stable equipment specialists) to bring the system to the market as soon as possible.

Keywords

STADY, manure, robot, horse, livestock, stables, cleaning, autonomous, droppings, farm, sensors

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