The MIone system, designed and built by GEA Farm Technologies, stands for “Milking Intelligence”. It can automatically attach itself to and suckle milk from up to 24 cows simultaneously. Here’s how it works:
A herd of dairy cattle enter the milking barn and wander through a series of automated gates to reach the milking station. An electronic collar worn by the cows helps the system track them individually and prevents them from being over-milked. Past the automated gates is the milking station itself.
When the cow enters a milking stall, the system dispenses a bit of feed to help calm and distract the animal while a robotic arm automatically positions itself under the udder and attaches a quartet of teat cups. The arm relies on a 3D camera to provide real-time positioning data, even as the cow shifts about in the stall. As the GEA Farm Technologies site explains:
With the new “relative method”, the camera constantly focuses on the distance between the teat cups and teats during the cluster attachment process, evaluates the data in no time so that they are in the correct relative positions and it is able to react in real-time to changing conditions. The new relative positioning procedure is especially calming to nervous animals, enables higher capacities and requires much less servicing and maintenance compared with existing absolute positioning processes.
Once the teat cups are in place, they automatically give each teat a quick wash and dry with a sterilising agent, then suction out the milk before automatically disengaging and moving on to the next stall. The cow, of course, is then released back into the wilds of the farm, where it does cow stuff, like standing around and looking generally disinterested. [PopSci – GEA – FDA – Westfalia 1, 2, 3]