Robotic farmhands inoculate cows at Pharm Robotics
The Robot Report attended the 2022 World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. The annual event is affectionately known locally as the “Farm Show”, and offers agriculture related vendors the opportunity to demonstrate their solutions to prospective buyers. The event is so popular that the local schools in Tulare, CA close down for the day on the Wednesday of the show so that parents can bring the next generation of farmers to the show to see all of the farm equipment.
We had the opportunity to see a demo of a new dairy cow inoculation solution that leverages a Fanuc industrial robot and needle-less injector.
Founder and CEO Marinus Dijkstra talked to us about the solution, his experience as a dairyman and his vision of the future for Pharm Robotics. The company was founded in 2017, and is headquartered in San Jacinto, CA.
Mike Oitzman (The Robot Report)
Hi Marinus, you’re the founder and CEO of Pharm Robotics. Tell us a little bit about the inception of the company and the new SureShot application that you’re demonstrating here.
Marinus Dijkstra (CEO and Founder, Pharm Robotics)
I started my own dairy with a partner back in 2012, and that includes doing ovsync programs to artificially inseminate (AI) the cows. So basically, give the cows a sequence of reproductive preparation shots prior to then inseminating them on a specific day. It’s super important to get the sequence of the shots timed right, otherwise the cows simply won’t get pregnant.
When we started the dairy, I trained my guys and everything went really well. And then a couple months later, the results come back: super crappy.
What happened? One of the guys didn’t show up that day, or they gave the wrong shot. So these problems kept reoccurring on our own dairy and I’m like, “Hey, how could we solve this issue?”
So that’s where we came up with the idea of making that (process) robotic. We started by doing a business plan and a patent search first.
So we filed our patent and then we started trying to raise money to finance this concept. That’s taken us five and a half years to get to this point. Probably in the last year and a half actually building it.
Here’s the promo video for the Pharm Robotics solution:
Interesting. As I look at the solution that you brought to the show, you’ve got a gating system that is automated to restrict the cows as they come into the inoculation station. And you’re using RFID tags to identify an individual cow?
Yes. RFID tags are really a standard. Most dairies put them in because they are already used by herd management programs to track the cows.
So you can keep track of every cow with her RFID tag as she comes into the station to decide whether she needs a shot or not?
Yes. The cows get milked twice or three times a day. This means 100% of the cows come out of the milk parlor at some point in the day.
The gate system is sitting on the exit lane of the milk parlor and scans each cow’s RFID tag. If she needs a shot, the gate stops her and then she gets scanned one more time just to make sure we know what shots are needed as we restrain her within the gate.
I see that you’re using a Fanuc M-20iB cleanroom, industrial robot for the inoculation process and a needle-less injection end effector?
Correct. it’s a Pulse NeedlFree, needle-less injection system.
Is needle-less state of the art these days or is that new technology on the dairy?
It’s pretty new. They use it a lot in baby calves and in swine. I got one for my own dairy and used it by hand to test it out and see how it worked. Then, we asked Pulse if we could attempt to inoculate by robot, and they said yes.
So the needle-less injection ensures that there are no broken needles during the automated inoculation process?
Correct, and it’s super quick. All you have to do is touch the skin with the correct pressure and the shot occurs in an instant. We plan to have an injector head with six different injectors on it, so we can deliver up to six different pharmaceuticals in one touch.
The pharmaceuticals will be stored in volume in a temperature controlled fridge next to the robot, and delivered to the end effector via tubes.
Tell me about your go-to-market plan. This is the first time that you’ve shown this solution publicly correct? What’s been the interest like at this show?
Correct, this is the first time that we’ve shown the solution. The response so far has been very good. We already had a bunch of interest prior to the show from our concept videos.
We have about 55 letters of interest that dairyman signed and that represents overt a half a million cows. There’s definitely a lot of interest in it.
The plan is to bring this first to my own dairy, validate the proof of concept there and then go to market right afterwards. So hopefully, we have our first ones sold and installed by the end of the year.
Are you planning to sell this solution or deliver in a robots as a service (RaaS) business model?
We definitely want to gather herd data from all of the sites to aggregate and evaluate the timing of the protocols along with the success. From this data we want to better understand how to optimize the AI schedule, when to inoculate, when to AI, etc.
This will be of tremendous value to the farmers.
The cows have peaks milk about 50 days after they calf and then it starts dropping again. The key is to get a cow pregnant sooner, so you have more cows always in that top curve. This results in more milk.
Cows that don’t get pregnant end up at slaughter, so a lot of dairymen will try and try and try and then they never get a cow pregnant because the timing is wrong all the time. With the right data, this should help manage this problem.
We also want to run some predictive modeling to get more cows pregnant the first time. We plan to put a scale into the gating system to weigh the cows and use that information in the decision and management process.
Do you think there will be applications for this automated inoculation technology beyond dairy cows?
Yeah, we want to go after beef cows after after the initial market of dairy cows. Swine and poultry is definitely in the foreseeable future. Probably swine before anything else because that’s a large market and I think they’re easier to handle than chickens.
To learn more about Pharm Robotics, visit their website.
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