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How robots are taking over the milking parlor

Image: Ron Austin and cow
Dairy farmer Ron Austin peers past the robot-controlled milking cups attached to a cow’s teats. The cows mostly decide when and how often they’re milked. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

OAKVILLE, Wash. – The Austin family’s cows seem a lot more contented since the robots took over the milking. It’s the humans, not the cows, who have had to make the biggest adjustments.

“At first, you’re a deer in the headlights,” Ron Austin recalled at the family farm, 90 miles southwest of Seattle. “You get a call from the robot, and you don’t know what to do. The cows learned faster than we did.”

The Austins and about a dozen other families in Washington state are part of a rising robot revolution in the dairy industry.

More than 30,000 autonomous milking machines have been sold around the world, and the trend is just now picking up speed in the United States. By 2025, as much as a quarter of the cows in North America could be milked by robots.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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