Currently a PhD researcher in the Farm Technology group, Bastiaan was a former master's student from Biosystems Engineering. His current research focuses on a new robot that makes the floor egg collection in poultry sheds easier, so that the farmer can spend his time on other productive tasks.
Poultry farmers spend one to two hours a day on collecting eggs which is physically demanding and an unhealthy work. The stray eggs have been a problem since 1990 when the traditional inhumane battery cages were banned and in many farms chickens got the chance to walk around freely. About 99.5 percent of the eggs end up in the nests but the other half percent takes up a lot of time.
The research aims to relieve the poultry farmers from this job. For this, the same technology as self-propelled cars is used. The robot determines its location based on its own movements and by scanning its surroundings with a laser. In the meantime the robot software ‘searches’ for eggs on camera images. The test robot can already collect eggs, but it still needs to be developed further. For example, with bright light it sometimes overlooks eggs and some eggs break.
However, collecting eggs is only the beginning. Poultry farmers will constantly have ‘eyes and ears’ of the robots amongst the chicken to keep an eye out for sick animals. Also, the humidity and temperature can be tracked locally.
A simple calculation: a robot that replaces one hour of work a day per stable, saves a company tens of thousands of euros per year. Besides, it seems that the robots do not form a threat to animal welfare as chickens get used to it really quickly. Moreover, the farmers will have to enter the sheds less frequently. Especially the unpredictable movements that people sometimes make could cause more stress.