Scientists at Tyndall National Institute, one of the institutes that hosts the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre, have developed a unique way of transmitting health and welfare information from cows to mobile devices or computers, using electronics-free material.

Inert and flexible

The new material is so inert and flexible that it could be formed into ear tags, udder tags, or skin patches, as curvature does not affect its ability to function. These devices could ‘read’ the animal for stress, hydration and general wellbeing, and present the data for collection.

The key to the functioning of the technology is the ability to interpret the data that is being gathered from the patch or tag by special scanners (like retail barcode scanners) which, in the case of cows, would be situated in milking parlours or cowsheds. This process is achieved with the use of AI models (trained on data collected by state-of-the-art robots) which enable accurate decoding of the data collected. 

PhD student, Nadeem Rather, behind the wireless sensing technology and Vistamilk Principal Investigator and Research Leader at Tyndall, Brendan O’Flynn, with an example of the wireless antenna. 

Dr Brendan O’Flynn, VistaMilk principal investigator and research leader at Tyndall, believes that the potential and the benefits of the chipless, wireless transmission system are vast.

Chipless and batteryless

He said: “We’ve got an inert, chipless, batteryless, flexible transmitter – and no electronics means no electronic waste, lower cost, and easier production – and we’ve got sophisticated machine learning programmes to interpret the data.

"At the moment, we’re able to gather information about animal welfare and wellbeing. In the future, we should be able to gather information about specific diseases and conditions. The antennas – or transmitters – could be wearable patches, or bracelets, that might enable the same monitoring of health data in humans.” 

Donagh Berry, director of the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre, added: "VistaMilk’s aim is to ‘digitalise dairy’, and this new tech takes us further down the road to a data-driven Irish dairy sector. This development, and others like it, will allow for a more efficient and productive system that acknowledges and addresses the global climate challenge.

"Dairying has been taking place in Ireland for 6,000 years. It employs 60,000 people, sustains 17,500 family farms and delivers €6.8bn to the economy each year. It’s initiatives like this, helping us be more efficient and more productive, while mitigating environmental impact, that will secure the future of the dairy sector.”