Autonomous ground drones designed to carry supplies to US troops in combat will soon be heading to the paddocks of northern Australia.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has been in talks with developers HDT Global, and is set to take delivery of a customised version later this year.
“This six wheel device, is the next evolution of a device which the US currently uses at the moment,” said Sean Starling, MLA’s general manager of research, development and innovation.
“It’s the size of a large quad bike and we’ve been working with that US military supplier to effectively evolve that technology for application on Australian pastoral operations.” Mr Starling said once the drone arrives in Australia, it will be sent to work on various cattle properties, starting in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
He said six pastoral companies involved in the project had already identified a number of potential applications for the drone, from simply being a “work horse” that can carry a payload of 500 kilograms, to doing bore runs and delivering lick-blocks to cattle.
“We will then spend the next couple of years deploying this to different locations with different producers, to get some additional input into what sensors and attachments we can deploy from this device to add value for pastoral businesses,” Mr Starling said.
Autonomous drones ‘are the future’
Mr Starling said it was now commonplace for pastoral companies to use manned drones to carry out various jobs, but MLA believes manually-operated drones could soon be obsolete.
“Where we would like to see this go, is that you don’t even have to be at the controls,” Mr Starling said.
“It is what we’d call a ‘silent service’.
“These autonomous drones, be they aerial or ground, are just a silent service, they’re in the background, doing their pre-determined task, and the only time you hear from them is when they can’t make a decision and need human input to make a decision on something they’ve seen which is unusual.
“So at MLA we used to have our drone strategy, but now we call it our autonomous strategy — we think drones will reach their limit very soon if we don’t move them into this fully autonomous, silent service offering.”
The autonomous six-wheeler being sent to MLA is expected to retail for less than $100,000.
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