Fall 2019

Farmer's friend

Jack Kilian says people in the industry like his idea for a poultry-patrolling robot and are willing to pay for such technology.
Photography by RICHARD G. ANDERSON

Minnesota turkey farmers may be getting help from a different kind of farmhand if Jack Kilian, ’16 B.S., ’19 M.S., gets his way. 

As a graduate student in the U’s College of Science and Engineering, Kilian designed an autonomous robot called Poultry Patrol that can turn bedding, detect disease, measure temperature and humidity, and let farmers watch their turkeys remotely.

Poultry Patrol got its start as a bird of a different feather. While interning at Digi Labs in Wayzata, Kilian worked on a robot designed to keep geese off grass. He started thinking about other ways to use autonomous bots. “Minnesota is the nation’s largest turkey producer, so we thought it seemed like a pretty good application,” he says. 

Kilian credits support from the Lawrence and Marian Robert Scholarship and the Elmer and Betty Schwittek Scholarship with allowing him to explore robotics. “I had time for student groups where I learned skills that helped me work on robots and was able to explore my interest in start-ups,” he says.

Kilian is now testing Poultry Patrol at a turkey farm in Northfield, Minnesota, and has applied for a grant to develop it on a larger scale.