Drone technology for herding sheep could put less stress on the animals than traditional methods, new research from UNSW Canberra has found.
UNSW Canberra visiting military fellow Squadron Leader Kate Yaxley led the study which measured the effect of using drones as shepherds on the welfare of the animals.
She said farmers were already using the technology and had noticed that sheep appeared to be happier and respond in a more predictable manner compared to traditional techniques, such as sheepdogs and quad bikes.
"We sought to actually quantify or at least prove whether or not this was true because as we introduce more technology into our workplaces we really do need to understand what the implications are for those involved," Squadron Leader Yaxley said.
The experiments took place on a property near Captains Flat in 2019. The researchers monitored the heart rates of sheep when they were exposed to drones approaching at different speeds and emitting different sounds.
The study found the heart rates of the sheep were lower and that the animals moved easier with certain drone movement patterns and sounds.
Squadron Leader Yaxley said a further study based at Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga campus would use the technology to herd sheep through a goal.
She said it was important to ask ethical questions about pursuing research on the interactions between humans, animals and artificial intelligence technology.
"We have seen within our society that we as a consumer want to understand more that what we purchase, what we do, everything that we have in our society is reflective of what we would like to see."
It could mean that the role of sheepdogs on farms would be different in the future.
"I see there is a special bond between a farmer and his dog... A special bond may form between the farmer and the sky shepherd.
"We're certainly investigating also that human-machine teaming aspects as well."
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