Brave moo world with cow facial recognition software
It seems there are no borders to how far technology can be developed as one company with headquarters in Dublin has launched the world's first cow facial recognition software.
Cows, like humans, have their own set of unique facial features and these characteristics can now be read as usable data by technology to identify that specific animal.
Cainthus is a machine vision company with its headquarters in Dublin and offices in Ottawa and San Francisco. By using its own unique expertise it can turn visual information into actionable data.
Their focus is currently on how best to use this technology in agriculture even though its end use has greater and wider potential.
David Hunt, a former corporate banker, is the co-founder of Cainthus along with his brother Ross and together they are committed to digitising agricultural practices.
One of their major goals was to develop facial recognition technology for cows and, as David explained, they are right on track to do so.
"As far as we know we're the only company in the world that can ID a cow solely using visual recognition, so I can only tell you how we're doing," says David.
"Today we have 97pc accuracy in ID on an individual image, but by sheer weight of analysis our ID accuracy is effectively 100pc.
"In relation to sales, we've already made our first commercial sale and install. We'll be doing our second commercial install in January and are open for general business at that point.
"In the near term we will be prioritising larger dairies of 1,000 cows plus, as that is where the system makes its greatest impact."
David confirms that their desire to introduce facial ID came from an earlier goal to improve commercial scale measurement. It was only after some research with sensors he discovered what could actually be achieved.
"We realised many years ago that most of the big problems in agriculture can be boiled down to a lack of commercial scale measurement," says David.
"If you can't accurately measure something, then you can't improve it. So we then went to see what would be the cheapest way to provide commercial scale measurement for agricultural fields, which turned out to be imaging sensors.
"Facial ID using those imaging sensors was a difficult next step to make the technology applicable to dairies."
But what has the future got in store for the applications of sensors and new technology in agriculture? David sees robotics as a solution to a decreasing labour force.
"The combination of advanced sensor data and analytics to interpret them will create a platform capable of making constant small interventions to ensure maximum productivity," he adds.
"The amount of interventions required combined with the cost of human labour means we are going to require low cost, robust farm robots to provide these interventions.
"So if we want to make best use of what is currently going on with sensors and analytics, then we must use robots. So I suppose I personally see them as an inevitability given the current road agriculture as an industry is on."
Technologies are being developed at a fast pace, maybe even faster than farmers can embrace them. But David says farmers are excited about new technology. "I think farmers are sceptical of new technology because of the amount of snake oil out there, like NDVI based crop analytics, rather than pace of development," says David.
"I've yet to meet a farmer who isn't excited to use a new technology that demonstrably works. Most farmers I know are extremely progressive.
"If a technology is a good technology, then it should be cheaper and easier to use than what it's replacing as well as being better," he said.
'A 5pc increase in feed efficiency is worth a lot to a dairy farmer'
The Cainthus bovine facial recognition technology has great potential for farmers as the first customers are discovering.
When cows stop eating or reduce their feed intake there is usually a good reason for this that indicates a pending health issue.
If these habits go unidentified for any period of time, farmers lose money in a reduced milk production and higher veterinary costs.
Thus, with facial recognition, cows can be identified easily in the shed or at the feed barrier and their eating habits and other attributes recorded.
"We've installs on two farms currently, and yes, they actively use it," says David Hunt. "A five percent increase in feed efficiency is worth a lot to a dairy farmer, and we can contribute quite a bit more than that simply by letting you know when the cows stop feeding, enabling you to intervene earlier than otherwise possible.
"I think livestock is more readily applicable for robotics as you're not asking these farmers to replace existing machines with robots, except for milking robots. With tillage, you're asking a farmer to abandon the tractor or harvester, which is much harder."
It's anyone's guess what a livestock farm will look like by 2050, but David thinks farms will become more mixed enterprise in the future.
"I don't think that there will be purely livestock farms by 2050. Farms will more likely be mixed use agro-ecology style systems with many different crops and livestock.
"For a farmer to operate in this environment, well they'll need to be extremely comfortable with data, statistics, and robots as well as being ecological experts.
"When I think of a 2050 farm, I struggle to see beyond it being one farmer and their machines. But this is true of many industries by 2050.
"The best of farmers will run far larger farms than today, only involving themselves when the machines are damaged or confused and need some human assistance."
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