British Cows Connected to 5G Can Control Own Milking

24 April, 2019

We have recently heard some interesting ways that 5G wireless technology might change our lives in the future.

5G promises internet speeds between 50 to 100 times faster than current 4G systems. The technology was also built to handle many more users without slowing wireless services down. Such improvements are sure to be popular for 5G users worldwide.

While 5G is set to launch in some limited areas of the United States this year, much of the rest of the world is not expected to receive widely available service until 2023.

One project in Britain, though, is already testing this superfast technology, but not on humans. Instead, the experiment involves an unlikely group of internet users - cows. The system connects the animals to 5G in an effort to automate the milking process.

The project was developed by American technology company Cisco Systems. It is part of a Cisco-led program called 5G RuralFirst. The project also receives money from the British government.

Dairy cows wear 5G smart collars that allow them to be milked by a robotic milking machine at a farm in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, in this still from video obtained April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Dairy cows wear 5G smart collars that allow them to be milked by a robotic milking machine at a farm in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, in this still from video obtained April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Reuters TV

Cisco says the program seeks to explore the future of 5G connectivity in rural communities around the world. Rural areas are expected to be the last to receive 5G service.

Testing areas were set up at farms in three rural areas of England. The cows are equipped with 5G-connected devices that link up to a robotic milking system. The system uses sensors and machine learning to fully automate the process.

System designers say technology takes over after a cow feels ready to be milked and walks toward an automatic gate. The device is designed to recognize each individual cow. It then positions equipment to the right body position for milking. During the process, machines release food for the cow as a reward.

One of the test areas is in the town of Shepton Mallet, in southwest England. There, about 50 of the farm's 180 cows are fitted with 5G smart collars and health-observing ear sensors.

Project officials say the devices do not harm the cows and the sensors permit farmers to immediately identify any problems or health concerns.

Duncan Forbes heads the government-funded Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre in Shepton Mallet. He told Reuters that so far, he thinks the project shows the farm's cow operations can be greatly improved with 5G technology.

"We are testing the ability of 5G to transmit the data from our sensors much quicker, and not via the farm's PC, and a slow (wireless) connection," he said.

Forbes added that the experiment provides strong evidence that 5G technology can be widely used in the future "not just on farms, but in rural communities right across the country."

Other technology tools powering the 5G smart farms include automated brushes that turn on when the cow rubs up against them. Sensors also control the amount of light to the cows' living areas depending on the weather. And, an automatic feeding system makes sure the animals always get enough to eat.

Nick Chrissos works on the project for Cisco. He said the system can connect every cow, and every other animal on the whole farm. "That's what 5G can do for farming - really unleash the power that we have within this farm, everywhere around the United Kingdom, and everywhere around the world."

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on a report from Reuters and online sources. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

automate v. control something using machines and not people

reward n. something good that is received for working hard or behaving well

collar n. a narrow piece of leather or plastic attached to an animal's neck

transmit v. send or broadcast

brush n. object used to tidy hair or fur

unleash v. suddenly cause a strong reaction