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Farm Drones Use Facial Recognition to Keep Cows Healthy

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Technology for farming in rural America is a very important piece of our future puzzle, and together a team of professors and student researchers are working to build an automated drone system that can monitor cattle health in the pasture.

The motivation for the project is backed by some pretty sobering stats. According to the team’s research, 2.5 million US cattle die every year from health issues, accounting for 60% of the cattle losses. Compare that to 220,000 lost to predators or other accidents and the stats make a strong case for paying more attention to cattle health.

A test drone gets ready to fly out into pasture at the Animal Research Center.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The type of cattle the team is hoping to monitor are cattle in beef production, a major industry across the U.S. and a significant export. According to the North American Meat Institute, beef exports reached a record $7.27 billion in 2017, a year when the USDA reports American meat companies produced 26.3 billion pounds of beef. Those individual cows are valued around $550, but their worth can go even higher, depending on factors like age, weight, quality and market demand.

These cattle graze for extended periods of time out in the field, making it harder for farmers to check each one’s wellness on a regular basis. If farmers had a way to remotely and autonomously check on the location and health of each cow, they can address cattle health and safety issues much sooner.

That’s where the drones or unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) come in. The goal of the system is to identify each cow, locate it in a pasture and measure vital health information like weight, size, facial features and physical activity.

The autonomous UAV system in development at UK could potentially locate, recognize and monitor each cow. The project, funded under a grant from the USDA, began in February 2018 and is slated to continue through February 2021.

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