Coming Soon: Robot Cowboys

The cowboy, being a hired herder of cattle who works from horseback, may be about to become obsolete, according to the BBC. Some researchers in Australia have developed what is, in effect, a robot cowboy.

Researchers at Sydney University have developed a robot called Rover which has apparently become adroit at moving cows from the field to the dairy. The cattle seem to have accepted the robot, partly because it moves at their own pace. Rover also is capable of gathering information on the cattle, such as when a cow is about to calve. It can work at day or night, moving cattle in the field or monitoring them in a corral.

Thus far Rover is remote controlled by a human. But some day versions of the robot cowboy will be able to work autonomously with minimal human monitoring.

Because of the slow pace with which Rover moves, cows are less likely to become lame. Injuries to humans are also mitigated since they won’t be riding horses or three wheeled vehicles to move the cattle.

The concept of the cattle herder working from horseback likely comes from Spain and from there spread throughout the New World. They were called vaqueros in New Spain, later Mexico and parts of the American Southwest. They are called gauchos in the South American pampas.

While cattle herding is drudgery work, it has been granted an aura of romance, thanks to books and, of course, thousands of movies and TV shows depicting cowboys leading lives of adventure in the Wild West. Modern cowboys are just as likely to drive around in pickup trucks and other motorized vehicles as they are on horseback. The term “cowboy” can also be used as an insult, defining someone as a reckless person, an image having more to do with movies and television than reality.

If Rover and its descendents take over cattle herding, the business will become more efficient and safer. But it will constitute the end of an era, with all of its glamour and legend.

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