As a result of the current change to loose-housing systems with more freedom for the animals, also working methods and management strategies are changing. In modern poultry housings for example, farmer have to manage a flock instead of a housing as with the traditional cages.
Next, also some old problems reoccur, like the presence of misplaced eggs, caused by hens placing their eggs outside the laying nests. These eggs create an extra workload for the farmers and reduce their profits. A lot of research has been done to decrease the number of floor eggs, but a solution to overcome this problem was not yet found.
Current measures to deal with these issues all rely on manual labour and control. For example, the (preventive) collection of these floor eggs is currently done by the farmer by hand. It is a physically and time demanding job, so that there is a need to ease and improve this collection. During the Field Robot Event of 2007, the idea of collecting floor eggs (outer-nest eggs on the litter) with help of a robot emerged.
In my research, I’m working on the evaluation of current & new technology for use in automation on their potentials when dealing with such problems. Target of this research is to come up with new solutions for further automation of poultry production, and more specifically for a vehicle that collects floor eggs autonomously and with special attention for the characteristics of this problem.
Specific examples are the testing of localization methods on their accuracy inside modern aviary housings and modeling floor laying behavior and using this to perform path-planning for the collection of floor eggs. The latter one is designed specific for the complex task of gathering floor eggs, but can also be used for other purposes like cleaning areas or searching for objects. Another important issue is object recognition, which can be used for performing desired tasks as well as ensuring operational safety of the vehicle. Finally, also the financial aspects and the machine-animal interactions are taken into account.