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High-tech wearables: a bovine perspective

01 August 2015

Cambridge Industrial Design has created a GPS device to track the movement of livestock and to improve milk production. This high-tech collar brings the wearables revolution into the cowshed.

A new wearable tracking collar created by Cambridge Industrial Design is enabling farmers to locate exactly where their dairy cattle are, helping better manage grazing patterns and milk yields. Commissioned by Irish company True North Technologies*, the collar is part of a pan-European project that also involves Teagasc (the Irish government agricultural research agency), Institute d’Laval in France and Agroscope, Switzerland.

The sturdy, bell-shaped GPS collar brings wearable technology and the Internet of Things to livestock. Containing an array of sensors, the collar tracks the cow’s every movement, and is able to match this to particular behaviour, such as grazing, socialising or simply lying down or chewing the cud. This information is then sent in real-time via mobile GSM networks to a central hub.

At the hub it is analysed in conjunction with other data, such as milk yields and grass length, which is monitored by the Grass Hopper measuring device, also designed by CID. Through the Grass Hopper, farmers can instantly see where the longest, lushest grass is. They can then ensure that cows are grazing in the best area by creating location-based virtual electric fences (based on the cow bell collar data), which confine them to specific pastures.

These 'geo-fences' can be easily and remotely changed dependent on grazing conditions, increasing efficiency as they remove the time and manpower needed to manually put up and take down physical electric fences. The project is now in the trial phase in Ireland and results will be published when the project concludes, which is expected to be in June 2016. Cambridge Industrial Design’s design director, Tim Evans takes up the story:

“Wearables, such as the Apple Watch, may be stealing the headlines, but tracking the behaviour of cows is equally vital to farmers who want to best manage their grazing. In creating this sensor we took our inspiration from the traditional alpine cow bell, using a rounded shape to minimise the size and maximise strength. This ensures it is rugged enough to cope with being bashed against fences and feeding troughs, and simple enough for farmers to remove for cleaning and recharging.”

Cambridge Industrial Design was also responsible for the manufacture of the cow bells, using one of its network of trusted suppliers. Created from super tough glass-filled nylon, they were manufactured using the selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing process to enable fast prototyping and revisions during the field trial phase of the project.

“Contrary to popular belief agriculture is increasingly reliant on technology to maximise yields and ensure the highest standards of animal welfare,” says True North Technologies managing director, Patrick Halton. “By combining our strengths in GPS and location technology with Cambridge Industrial Design’s skills we have been able to create an innovative, tough product that will help dairy farmers to optimise their operations.”

The cow bell is one example of Cambridge Industrial Design’s growing portfolio of wearable/location based designs. These also include the SureFlap pet door, which opens when triggered by the animal’s microchip, and the compact xNAV navigation module for drones.

*True North Technologies is a start-up company located in Shannon, Ireland. Over the past two years it has developed, in conjunction with the Irish Agricultural research agency, Teagasc, a number of technologies for the dairy sector, including advanced grass measurement, optimised paddock usage through grazing and residual control, automatic strip fencing allocations and farm-by-farm back-office paddock analysis.

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