July 25, 2019 | Written by: Matts Lilja and Helena Björk
Categorized: Cognitive | Industry
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For many people, the mention of a “hearty breakfast” or “flavorful meal” conjures up the quiet sizzle, smoky flavor and savory aroma of bacon. Pork enthusiasts can count on their beloved bacon to deliver a consistent quality and experience — and that’s no accident. Pig farmers and processors know all too well that a pig’s weight and fat percentage are critical for pig production. If the animal weighs too much, it requires additional costly processing, and if the animal is too small, it fetches a lower market price. So, farmers are paid less if a pig’s weight is out of the acceptable range, which varies by country. Hitting this just right is one of the biggest challenges of pig production and dictates a farmer’s profitability.
In the four months or so that a farmer prepares a pig for production, he or she is typically only able to weigh a pig a few times. This gives little opportunity to adjust the animal’s diet and hit the target weight range by the pre-set production date. To estimate a pig’s weight, the farmer has three options: take the pig out of its pen and force it onto a scale, climb into the pig’s pen and measure the pig from head to tail and around the girth, or conduct a visual inspection. These manual processes are likely to yield inaccurate results, can be highly stressful for the pigs, and can be extremely difficult, time-consuming and dangerous for farmers. Imagine trying to corral or get in the pen with an approximately 110 kilogram (240 pound) scared animal. Truthfully, pig weighing is a bit of a guessing game, but these manual processes are how farmers around the world have done it for decades. Until now.
Transforming from manual to digital animal production
At Smart Agritech Solution of Sweden, we develop digital solutions for innovative animal production. Our startup is the brainchild of Per Eke-Göransson, an inventor and former pig farmer. He says, “Manual weighing is a painful task for both humans and animals. After having weighed pigs for years, manually in the summer heat, I started to think that there must be an easier way. The solution hit me after long and hard thinking, and I realized exactly how to do it.”
In the 1980s, Per had the idea to use photographs to create optical measurements to calculate a pig’s weight. However, his idea was ahead of its time: cameras were too expensive and technology was too immature. Per got a patent and invested in a 15-year-old algorithm that the Swedish Agricultural Institute of Farming had developed. Finally, photography and machine-learning technology have caught up, and Per partnered with a butcher and a technician to turn his idea into reality.
We contacted the IBM Garage because we had this genius concept, but we needed a system, cloud services, developers, quality assurance and so on. Plus, as a small startup, we wanted to boost the credibility of our solution with backing from a huge IT company. We knew no one would question IBM.
Addressing farmer challenges through cloud innovation
At the IBM Garage in Copenhagen, we participated in an IBM Design Thinking Workshop and a cloud innovation architecture workshop for Pig Scale, our digital pig-weighing solution. We greatly appreciated how well organized the process was and how much we involved the user’s perspective.
For our first minimum viable product (MVP), we decided to create assets that would have the biggest impact at EuroTier, the world’s largest farming conference, in Hannover, Germany. The deliverables included a clickable prototype to demonstrate how the front-end solution works, a conference booth design explaining the solution and its value for the farmer, and a video illustrating a pigsty and how we use machine learning and visual recognition to capture and analyze a pig’s weight.
With the IBM Garage, we built our MVP on IBM Cloud with IBM Watson Machine Learning. Every day, with no stress to the pigs or danger to the farmer, the solution will capture accurate 2-D photographs of pigs in their pens; determine their weight, growth rate and readiness for production; and alert the farmer about any growth anomalies. This allows the farmer to quickly adjust a pig’s diet to get the pig’s weight into the most profitable range.
The Pig Scale concept was extremely well received at EuroTier. In fact, more than 125 farmers, competitors and system integrators from around the world requested to buy our product or even purchase our company. We had never seen anything like it.
With such positive feedback on the first MVP, we quickly secured funding to build the second MVP — Pig Scale’s back-end system. We are currently working with the IBM Garage and the IBM Watson iLab team on the second iteration. Stay tuned because Pig Scale is going to be something to squeal about.
To schedule a complimentary four-hour IBM Garage consultation, click here.