UK Government invests in the development of IceRobotics’ cattle monitoring technology: an Internet-of-Things case study

Innovate UK is an investment arm of the UK government that supports the development of innovative products and services, providing a variety of support and finance initiatives aimed at growing an idea and making it a success.

IceRobotics is a world-leading developer and provider of IoT data collection and analysis products for monitoring dairy cow behaviour. Between 2012 and 2014, Innovate UK made an investment in a consortium led by IceRobotics and including Keytree as the primary development partner to support the delivery of a step change in its CowAlert architecture to ensure scalability to hundreds of thousands or indeed millions of animals. The IoT analytics system is used by dairy farmers to monitor their herds, helping farmers to make the right fertility and health management decisions at the right time.


“Keytree’s advanced technical skills were fundamental in enabling us to scale our sensor-to-cloud architecture into a world-class system for full commercial deployment.”

Robert BoyceDirector at IceRobotics

CowAlert – monitoring the herd

The hardware is attached to a hind leg using a comfortable strap, and then by analysing the measured behaviours of a cow, dairy farmers can identify when she has a problem requiring prompt intervention, such as a fertility issue or lameness.

The sensor contains a 3-axis accelerometer that tracks the number of steps the cow is taking, how much energy she is exerting, and how long she spends lying down versus standing up. It tracks all this against time to model the behavioural norms of each individual animal, generating an alert to the farmer when anomalies occur that are indicative of the need for their attention.

The sensor system also provides details of when a cow is ready to be inseminated, providing the optimum day and time for this to happen, as she needs to calf every year to maintain her milk production.

All data gathered is displayed on the CowAlert™ website, and farmers can also access this information in the milking parlour. This data passes through a local data collection system and can be immediately fed back to the farmers in-situ as well as pushing the data up to the cloud through to a set of load-balanced servers that are active 24 hours a day, just like the cows. More complex analytical algorithms can then be run on these cloud servers. The farmers can view their alerts via a web browser on a PC or mobile device, or they can also opt to have direct visibility of the local database using an on-farm in-parlour waterproof display panel.

logo IceRobotics

Benefits

The analytics provided have multiple benefits. One of the significant benefits to individual farmers is fertility management – measuring and informing when the cow is at a point in its oestrus cycle where impregnation is viable and then monitoring the cow through her pregnancy. This information helps to improve milk yield, increase the bottom line and ensure healthier cows. The data also provides the can be used by researchers to develop new and improved algorithms to determine not only if a cow is in heat but if she is developing, or already has any health problems. Early identification of any health issues allows the farmer to address these before they become deeply problematic.

CowAlert is already widely used across UK dairy farms and now thanks to the IoT scalability IceRobotics achieved with the help of Keytree, it is ready to address its global opportunities across Europe and in major dairy producing regions such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Robert Boyce, Director at IceRobotics, said: “Keytree’s advanced technical skills were fundamental in enabling us to scale our sensor-to-cloud architecture into a world-class system for full commercial deployment.”