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Pigs and technology unite for the Lunar NewYear

By Barry He | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-02-25 00:01
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Piglets are held in pens at a modern pig farm in Beijing on April 30, 2018. [Photo by Wu Bo/For China Daily]

The Year of the Pig has begun, and all around the world nations have been celebrating the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Those who hold the animal zodiac dear will no doubt be hoping for luck in wealth, love and success, and the same holds true for technology involving pigs too.

Such technology may be seen as niche, but pigs play a vital role in industrial science and agricultural tech, not to mention providing an interesting area of research for AI and machine learning which can then be applied to countless other areas. 

Facial recognition technology is rapidly being applied to agricultural development. As fittingly, the fact that human beings are not the only animals with unique individual facial structures.

AI is now being used to analyze and track pigs to monitor their movements and feed and water intake to maximize the ideal program yield for farmers. Innovative AI start-ups such as the Iowan SwineTech have also meant that farmers can also be alerted if sows accidentally sit on her babies and prevent deaths through smothering or being crushed. Such AI movement tracking abilities can also be used to prevent biting and other undesirable behaviors preemptively.

Last year 2018 saw the rise of "Fitbit" technologies, wearable devices which provide the users with information regarding their health and fitness. Beloved by twentysomething joggers and anxious undersleeping corporate types, such devices are now this year being used in agriculture to further animal welfare, and especially within the pig farming industry. Farmers are able to track an animal's health animal by animal, alerting them to any sudden illness as well as monitoring vital health signs such as heart rates and signs of dehydration.

Virtual reality is also another unlikely area where pigs are becoming tech superstars. Companies such as McDonald's are offering educational VR tours of swine agricultural facilities, providing consumers with an insight into how animals are reared and where exactly their food sources come from.

Companies such as the North Carolina Pork Council also use such VR tours for training purposes, speeding up employee initiation and aiding learning for veterinary medical areas too. Such VR initiatives are also being deployed in many other food industries, where employee turnover is faster and rapid training is necessary to maintain a constant level of productivity. 

In a similar vein, Augmented Reality is being used with similar purposes within AgTech. Augmenting virtual data with a user's real life vision, one can add information to a user's vision which allows the viewer to see and gain insight into things which the human eye cannot do alone.

This can enhance decision making abilities for production workers, and provide an additional layer of context for mechanical repairs and inspection processes. When combined with AI, the ability to reduce hazards in agricultural production is invaluable, and provides our beloved pigs and ourselves with additional safety. Such technology is especially valuable in China to prevent food scares by increasing the potential to spot bacterial foodborne diseases.

I hope that this new year, whether you are born in the Year of the Pig or not, brings you the same success that pigs are bringing to so many different areas of technology.

Precision agriculture is an area of industry which the world will increasingly rely on, given the global rapidly increasing population. As people tuck into their pork jiaozi around the world, just know that the latest cutting edge technology is allowing you to continue spending quality dinner time with your friends and family for years to come.

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