Business Today

Mooving To IoT

How the dairy industry is benefiting from the Internet of Things.
Team BT | Print Edition: December 3, 2017
Mooving To IoT

Mention the Internet of Things (IoT) and the mind conjures up images of devices connected to the cloud in a smart home or office space. But who would've thought that one of the early adopters of IoT would be the humble cow?

For the past couple of years, various companies have been working on equipping cows with interesting trackers. Fujitsu, on the request of a farmer, put its researchers to work to find a way to keep tabs on the estrous cycle of cows. Fujitsu clipped on pedometers on the legs of cows in 11 farms. Using Microsoft's Embedded software and Azure, to send the data to the cloud, these pedometers were able to constantly show step activity. When a cow is in estrus, it tends to pace frantically and the number of steps naturally goes up exponentially. It's difficult to keep track of this visually, especially for big herds. This solution works by recognising that small window of opportunity in which the cow is able to conceive - and helps it do so.

"Every company is a data company; even the ones you least expect. Even dairy farms," says Joseph Sirosh who leads Cloud AI initiatives at Microsoft. Sirosh informs that the step measurements and the timing at which they occur are further fed to AI systems to determine the best time for a cow to birth a male or female calf, a remarkable bit of tampering with nature to the advantage of the farm.

Another company, SCR Dairy, uses connected necklaces to monitor cows' activities to stay ahead of health problems, which is critical for a dairy farm owner. The company has connected over four million cows in different places.

True North Technologies in Ireland has made collars for cows so that dairy farmers can constantly track their location while they are grazing, sitting, walking, ruminating, or just standing around. With this, one can ensure that a particular area of pasture is not overgrazed and that the cows are spread optimally on the farmland.

Another Irish company MooCall has developed a monitoring device that when tied around a cow's tail, sends an e-mail when a birth is imminent. It captures changes in tail movement that are typical of upcoming birth and notifies farm workers to rush for assistance at the right time. This way, the number of newly born calves lost is reduced.

While consumers are still tinkering with smart bulbs and thermostats, the bovine community has gone a step ahead.

Robots that Feel

If a robot is sent to defuse a bomb or carry an egg without breaking it or repair something that needs great precision, it's going to need a proper sense of touch - not just a mere feel of the object, but the kind of touch that can shift the skin in response to the object. How does sliding a finger along a textured surface feel, for example, or when an object is about to slip away and fall? This 'shear force' as it's called, is difficult to achieve with prosthetic and robotic limbs. However, the University of Washington and UCLA seem to have developed sensor skin that can be stretched over any part of a robot, enabling it to feel vibration and shear force. The University of Washington describes this in a paper and explains how it can be as accurate as a human finger. This will have major implications for industries that use robots for very fine tasks.

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