11/11/2019

Farmers will soon enter the twilight zone with a new artificial intelligence technology posed by New Zealand based company, Iris Data Science (IDS).

Their new project – Sheep NN – is a technology that aims to use AI visual imaging technology to identify individual sheep. The project has received a $40,000 grant from Callaghan Innovation to prototype the software.

How does it work?

IDS have collected sheep face images that are fed into a machine-learning model, which adapts to identify distinct sheep facial features. It uses similar technology to that used in airports to identify people against their passport. It will function like a “mobile phone camera”.

Implications and future outlook

The technology will remove the need for traditional ear-tagging or the more expensive RFID-based solutions. It is designed to be a faster and cheaper alternative to flock management.

Similar technology has been studied as a form of managing animal wellbeing. Researchers at the University of Cambridge used facial recognition to detect sheep facial cues and determine their welfare.

The technology could potentially be used to track the location of animals, and to monitor their behavior and condition. There is also the intention for the same technology to be used for measuring pasture quality in the future.

AgTech in Australia

The project represents a step in technological innovation for livestock management in the Australasian agricultural industry. The AgTech sector has already seen some developments in supply chain management and data aggregation to improve crop yields; start-ups such as AgriDigital have developed blockchain-based transaction platforms for grain growers. Agri-business have been described as data driven machines, therefore the need for oversight and efficient management of livestock and crops is steadily growing.

With AgTech pitched to become Australia’s next billion-dollar industry by 2030, technology has a major role to play in advancing Australia’s economy. To keep our agricultural industry competitive in the global arena, targeted investment in technology is essential.

Authors: Tim Gole, Clare Beardall and Erin Kirker

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