Holy Cow! How technology is changing the way livestock is farmed

eShepherd is a virtual herding system made by Cobalt for agri-tech innovator Agersons. The integrated system allows farmers to remotely manage and monitor their livestock from any smart device, no matter where they are- safely, reliably and humanely.

The heart of the system is a wireless IOT and GPS collar device fitted to cattle or dairy cows. Through a computer or mobile app, farmers can set up “virtual fences‟  to define grazing areas for their livestock.

This is a significant game-changer, as it enables more efficient pasture use as well as environment benefits such as a wildlife friendly, flood and fireproof method for preventing cattle from polluting waterways.

eShepherd uses less labour and negates the cost of building wire fences, and unlike physical fences virtual fencing can be re-positioned whenever needed.  This capability will give farmers a truly unique tool to best care and manage their livestock as well as their land.

eShepherd is the result of original CSIRO research which demonstrated that cattle can be trained to stay within a virtual boundary using a combination of non-aversive audio signals and aversive electrical pulse.  The pulse is less than an electric fence which causes discomfort rather than harm, but animals quickly learn to respond to the audio “cue” alone.

DESIGN ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Humanely trains livestock without animal harm
  • Gives farmers livestock control from their mobile phone
  • Solar panels avoids need for battery change
  • Counterweight keeps collar comfortably & safely positioned

COMMERCIAL IMPACT

  • High initial interest from small farmers to large farming businesses
  • Offers to improve productivity and profitability of beef and dairy farms
  • Reduces need for expensive labour and traditional fencing
  • Strong interest for sustainable land & waterways management

COBALT TASKS

  • Design strategy
  • Industrial Design
  • Form and ergonomic models
  • Product Engineering
  • FEA (Finite Engineering Analysis)
  • Prototyping
  • CG visualisation
  • Libby Christmas
  • Thao Nguyen
  • Marcus Krigsman
  • Craig Burton
  • Andy Kshatriya
  • Graeme Marshall
  • Perrin Boseley
  • Davis Tolley

Grabbing Innovation by the Horns

The collar device incorporates audio and electrical stimulus, GPS and wireless comms, as well as PV cells to trickle-charge the batteries.  The device emits a non-aversive audio “cue” (beep sound) when the cow approaches a virtual fence defined by the farmer.  If the animal continues forward into the virtual fence the device follow up with an aversive electrical pulse (less than an electric fence but sufficiently uncomfortable).  Cows quickly learn to stop or turn back on hearing the audio cue and avoid the electrical pulse.

Working with Agersens and electronics development firm LX Group, Cobalt designed a very rugged “wearable‟ device that suits several cow breeds. According to Cobalt’s Project Leader Libby Christmas, “the final product had to balance multiple technical objectives including size, solar harvesting and stimuli positioning. But one of our quirkiest tasks was creating ‘Angus,’ our very own anatomically-correct bovine mannequin. Unlike human anthropometrics, there is next to no existing biometrics on bovine necks/heads, so we made our own full-size cow mannequin to test early concepts.”

Improving animal health and wellbeing is one of Agersens core criteria, so ensuring the fit and positioning of the eShepherd collar was always front of mind to ensure the collar could be worn safely and avoid injury.

Of course the farmer is the other product user, and their safety while working is also paramount. Through design & prototyping iterations, we designed the collar, strap and counterweight system to be quickly, easily and most importantly safely fitted and adjusted onto (sometimes very cranky) animals that can weigh over half a tonne.

Cobalt was involved from discovery and early concept development, through to detail design of the assembly and mouldings. After several engineering prototypes and refinements, Cobalt also undertook pilot assembly of 50-off Alpha prototypes. These involved tooling and several in-house processes to waterproof the enclosure around the PV array. According to Cobalt engineer Thao Ngyuen, “assembling trial units within our product lab gave us hands-on insights for ongoing DFM development.”

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