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Meet Astronaut A3, the milk robot


This summer I went on a long cycling trip through Holland with my friends. We brought our tents so we could camp wherever to have the ultimate sense of freedom. We stayed on many different camp sites. From family camp sites to camp sites usually only older people spend their summers, enjoying their retirement. Inevitably we also stayed at a farmer’s camp site.

We totally didn’t mind that; it’s way cheaper and a good way to avoid mini playback shows, bingo and people trying to sing to the horrible tunes of Marco Borsato during late night karaoke. For me it was a good opportunity to see farm life from close by. As a vegetarian I’ve heard the most horrific stories for years. High time to find out and see for myself! So after we set up our tents I couldn’t wait to do some investigation.

The Dairy Farm

From the smell of it we were obviously on a farm where they kept cows. It’s easy to see the difference between a milk cow and a ‘meat cow’ (milk cows have much bigger udders and meat cows are usually bigger in shape and look more muscled) and after one look at the cows that were lazily grazing in the field nearby, we could tell we were on a dairy farm. The cows in the field looked at least happy enough…

After a while we came to a huge barn and to our delight the door was wide open and we could enter it without anybody stopping us. Inside there were at least thirty cows. Most of them with their heads stuck between iron bars eating from food that was spread around on the wooden floor. They looked pretty relaxed and didn’t look disturbed by our unexpected visit. They seemed to be mainly focused on eating the food from the floor. When tired of eating, the cows could pull their heads back out of the bars and lay down, or walk around a bit. Although the barn was quite crowded with cows, they all seemed to have enough space to move around a bit. There was a lot of room between the wooden planks on the floors enabling cow shit to fall through. We assumed the farmer collected it every once and a while to add it to the huge smelly pile we saw outside.

Astronaut A3

As soon as we entered the barn, we could hear these bleeping sounds and I wondered where these sounds came from. A big red machine like object in the middle of the barn caught my attention. It had Astronaut A3 printed on the side in big black letters. That name immediately triggered my imagination. “Astronaut!” “Why would there be something called Astronaut on a farm??” While I was walking towards the Astronaut for further investigation, a cow entered the machine through what looked like one of these one way iron gates. They actually reminded me of the ones you have to go through when you take the tube in Paris.

The cow disappeared into the machine. When I came close by, I could see the cow standing behind a gate patiently waiting..for what? Suddenly the bleeps became louder and a big mechanic arm came out of the astronaut, halting underneath the cow’s udders. A little round brush came out, which started to turn around the udders, brushing all the dirt (if any) off. A few moments later the brush disappeared again and this time four tubes came out. By then it had started to dawn to me that I was actually looking at a robot about to milk the cow! In the dark we could see red lasers detecting where the udders were exactly positioned. Then after a few tries, the tubes connected to them. A loud pumping sound started to come out of the Astronaut and we could see the milk being pumped out with great force. The cow just stood there. Not making a sound, or a move. Just patiently waiting for the machine to be done.


I didn’t really know what to think yet. This peaceful little farm was in fact a milk factory. Sure, it did look peaceful enough, but when I imagined how I would feel if it was me to be milked like that, my mind filled with scenes from several sf stories I’ve read. I shivered and asked my friend why they would voluntarily step into a cabin like that. He replied that cows want to be milked when it’s time, because the weight gets really heavy in the end.

When the machine was done, a gate on the other side opened so the cow could walk through. On her way out the cow had to go through a portal of brushes, like in a car wash, cleaning her back and sides. As soon as one cow left the cabin of the Astronaut, another cow took her place. We found out later through a news article that was pinned to the wall, that this farm was one of the first farms in the area to have the robot installed. The machine can milk about seventy cows three times a day and also automatically detects illness. The farmer doesn’t have to get up early any more, as the cows decide themselves when they feel like being milked. And they love being milked, because after that job is done, the cows gain access to the food they like so much. The cows were actually standing in line to go into the machine so they could join their other fellow cows, who were already enjoying the yummy food. So much for voluntarily milking!

Sleepless night

That night I slept uneasy and woke up in the middle of the night screaming. I had an awful dream about being kept with thousands of other humans on a huge farms ran by aliens. They had us all connected to these terrible sucking machines with long tubes sucking out our life essence. While hearing the bleeping sounds of Astronaut A3 in the distance, it took me a long time before I fell asleep again…


See the robot in action: