Cattle such as cows, horses and bison are generally managed as large herds and require large areas of grazing. Although this group-based management has dramatically increased productivity, it makes continuous monitoring of animal health and welfare difficult and difficult.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Virginia Tech have developed a versatile, reliable and attack-resistant wireless sensor network for intelligent animal monitoring. The team received an NSF grant from the Computer Systems and Networking Division, and are now demonstrating its operation and practicality on real farms.
Swarun Kumar, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon with extensive experience in wireless devices, joined the research team led by Virginia Tech.
The team developed a 5cm sensor ear tag that can monitor animal biometrics, acceleration and location. Powered by solar energy, the beacons will not need to be recharged or replaced. The tag, attached to the ear, conforms to existing ear tags used in the industry and will not harm the animal.
Although solutions exist to implement monitoring technologies in concentrated animal facilities, equivalent solutions for grazing animals are not available due to the energy consumption associated with transmitting data over long distances (between animal pastures and the nearest traditionally connected environment). Popular technologies such as WiFi and ZigBee are optimized for use in intensive barn containment operations and do not translate well in pastoral systems.
This innovative sensor network will take advantage of Low Power Wide Area Networks (LP-WANs) to enable animal care staff to remotely monitor cattle behavior and health. LP-WAN devices aim to provide wireless connectivity at extremely low data rates over distances of several kilometers.
The biggest challenge in developing these networks is scale. Building a network where thousands of devices communicate at the same time will cause interference and prevent signals from reaching a base station several miles away.
“Our lab is developing the wireless protocols to make these devices coexist, communicate and last for years effectively,” said Kumar.
Kumar brings depth to the project, especially at the level of LP-WAN devices. Carnegie Mellon’s WiTEch Lab, led by Kumar, seeks to develop and apply wireless technologies to improve everyday life. Current research projects using LP-WAN technology include sensors to track forest fires, fabric-friendly sensors that respond to human touch, and automotive sensors to monitor tire wear.
“Low power, extended networking devices are extremely versatile and can be adapted to endless fields,” said Kumar. “I am excited to apply this technology to increase agricultural productivity. “