The Australian Centre for Field Robotics called Otto Tag on a Wednesday afternoon. Tag was a farmer living in Australia. The Centre for Field Robotics was looking for a person with just those qualifications. The phone rang and Tag asked who was on the line.
"Hi, yes, this is the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. And we’re calling to find out if you’d be interested in trying out one of our new robots for a week."
"Uh, what," Tag replied.
"It’s called SwagBot. Basically, it’s a robot that acts like a sheep dog. We’ve been working on it for months and we want to test it out on a real farm in the real world. You’re the closest farm to our lab, so we figured we’d try you first."
Tag stayed silent for a moment. What timing, he thought. Only a month ago his best sheep dog and best friend Sally had died. He cried alone in the shower for a week afterward and still couldn’t muster the strength to replace her. Buying a new dog felt not only insulting to Sally but also pushed him beyond his comfort level. It hurt too much to begin to love again. Why ever love again?
But the sheep, the cows, and the horses. He needed an extra animal to herd them. What could he do?
"Okay," he replied. He hung up the phone and a few days later SwagBot rolled into Tag’s life on the back of the Robotic Centre’s truck.
Tag didn’t even know what SwagBot could do. He had zero robot experience, although he recalled reading something about FarmBot. Swagbot had been programmed, though, and Tag had a hardened heart, so he let it hang out on the farm. At first, SwagBot mostly spent its time exploring the land.
Later, it started towing items around. The other dogs seemed to both fear and admire SwagBot.
Tag was impressed. Yeah, dogs could do the same work as SwagBot, but SwagBot didn’t need to be fed; Tag wouldn’t cry over it if it ever malfunctioned; and damn, it was good at its job. Even when it came to herding, Tag didn’t have to do much more than make sure SwagBot was in the right place at the right time. He’d just stand on the back of his truck and watch SwagBot do its work.
A week together felt like nothing. Tag was just getting used to SwagBot. He loved his dogs, but dang did he love his robot, too. The Australian Centre for Field Robotics pulled into his driveway exactly seven days later.
"So how did you like the bot," the team asked Tag, getting out of their car.
"I loved it," he replied. "It made my life easier and overall, I didn’t mind having a bot around." He chuckled nervously.
The team smiled. They told Tag of their plans to expand SwagBot’s programming so it could identify when animals were sick or injured. They powered SwagBot down as they talked and loaded it into their truck. The whole process took about five minutes.
As they pulled out of his farm, Tag looked back at his land. It was Swag-less. Goodbye, SwagBot. He rounded up his remaining dogs and took them out to pasture. He didn’t cry in the shower for the bot. He never shed a tear.