Australia's NBN makes mark in island state

NBN powers robotic farms in rural Tasmania

The NBN is helping electrical contractors in rural Tasmania better support robotic dairies and remote-controlled farm irrigation systems, according to Andrew Dare Electrical Services managing director, John Dare.

In an interview with Computerworld Australia, Dare described some difficulties signing up and connecting to the NBN, but stressed that he has been very satisfied with what faster and more reliable broadband has brought to his business.

Also read: What's life really like with the NBN? -- Part 1, Part 2

Before connecting to the NBN, Dare Electrical’s headquarters in Deloraine was connected to Telstra’s 12Mbps ADSL service.

Initially, Dare opted for the lowest tier of NBN service from iiNet, providing 50GB per month with base speeds of 25Mbps down and 10Mbps up. However, after understanding its requirements better, the company upgraded to the next tier, which provides 250GB data and speeds of 50Mbps up and 250Mbps down.

Broadband on the farm

A reliable Internet connection is required to operate “fully robotic” dairies that are serviced by the electrical contractors, Dare said. Dare Electrical maintains one of these high-tech dairies in the Meander Valley, where cows are voluntarily milked by three robots, he said.

The cows, which are milked as they feed, wander in on their own volition about two or three times per day, Dare said.

An articulated arm with four joints “goes in under the cow and looks at the udder of the cow” using lasers and proximity sensors, said Dare. “Once it determines where the teats are, it memorises that and it also knows which cow is in there because of the ear tag on the cow.”

The next time the cow comes in, the robot will recognise it, he said. “The hand on the arm of the robot will come in and go for the right place on first go.”

The dairy is operated fully automatically and the farmer only has to attend once or twice a day, said Dare. However, an Internet connection is required so that the farmer and electrical contractors can monitor the dairy and ensure that everything is working properly, he said.

Internet access is also critical in enabling farmers to remotely control and monitor irrigation systems for their crops, Dare said. Farmers currently use Internet-connected moisture meters and other sensors for monitoring, but access to faster broadband through the NBN will allow farmers to install video cameras, he said.

An irrigation system in Tasmania. Credit: Dare Electrical
An irrigation system in Tasmania. Credit: Dare Electrical

“Cameras are where it’s headed,” said Dare, predicting they will begin to appear on farms in the next 12 months. However, video requires more data so high-speed broadband connections on the farm will be required, he said.

Next page: Connecting to the NBN

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