New innovator: SmartChick from PE Services
For poultry farmers, keeping birds healthy and housed in optimal conditions is the key to success. Now thanks to some perfect matchmaking between academia and industry, a new analytics tool called SmartChick, can help them to do an even better job.
The company behind SmartChick is Cavan-based PE Services, a diversified equipment design and supply firm operating across the agricultural, safety and environmental sectors in Ireland and the UK. The academic know-how is being provided by researchers from the School of Computing at the Dublin Institute of Technology led by data analytics expert Robert Ross.
PE has a track record in the poultry sector and its systems already collect a great deal of data about flocks. Managing director Kilian Cawley knew the data could be of value to poultry farmers. The big challenge was how to turn it into a saleable product that would improve sustainability and profitability for farmers.
The man responsible for the match between PE and DIT is Kieran O’Connell, a former food industry executive who now works for DIT’s Hothouse technology transfer office. He introduced the parties and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“Our monitoring systems were collecting all of this data and it was just sitting on the shelf,” says Cawley. “We knew that being able to use the information in real time to improve a range of outcomes from animal welfare and traceability to feed conversion rates and increased output, could have huge potential within the poultry sector both here and worldwide.
“We started work with DIT about four months ago and they really grasped the challenge and have driven the project forward very quickly,” he says. “We now have a licence agreement on the IP [intellectual property] arising from this project.”
The details of the business model are still being thrashed out, but Cawley says more than likely farmers will pay an upfront charge to use SmartChick followed by a recurring annual fee. While the poultry sector here and overseas is the company’s first target market, the cloud-based platform can be applied to other types of farming.
For researchers at DIT, the SmartChick challenge appealed as it brought the team in a new direction.
“We have a lot of experience of data analysis in sectors such as ICT and banking but using it in precision agriculture is something new but with huge potential not only for PE but for Irish agriculture as a whole,” says Ross, a senior lecturer at DIT and also a principle investigator in the Enterprise Ireland-funded Centre for Advanced Data Analytics Research.
“We already have an international reputation for our food industry and collect a great deal of agricultural data that no one else does. There is no reason why Ireland couldn’t become a world leader in agricultural ICT systems. In this case, SmartChick provides insights through forecasting and outlier analysis to give farmers a considerable advantage in managing their stock.”
Cawley is not expecting any resistance to the new product from farmers. “Sure, the younger farmers are into their tablets and laptops but even older generation farmers are using smartphones and this technology will work on smartphones so it’s not much of a jump.
“The touchscreen system will be very interactive and easy to use and the system will speak for itself in terms of maintaining optimal flock performance by improving welfare and reducing mortality. In short, better technology will lead to better business and ultimately better farming.”
The project is employing three researchers at DIT with skills in agriculture, software engineering, and data analytics. Initial development costs will be about €170,000 with support coming from PE and Enterprise Ireland through the Innovation Partnership Programme.