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Developing novel technology for precision dairy farming stimulates SME growth

Posted on 13/09/2017

IceRobotics has developed cutting-edge technology for the dairy industry with the support of KTN and Innovate UK.

In order to improve profitability and sustainability, dairy farmers need to continuously monitor their cattle health, welfare and productivity.

Cattle behaviour, such as the amount of time spent lying or standing, can provide a timely and effective measure of health and fertility. For instance, this can identify when cattle are in heat and ready for artificial insemination – essential as cattle need to calve every year to maintain their milk production.

Traditionally this has been achieved by visual assessment of cattle, which is subjective and time-consuming. Intelligent remote monitoring enables precision management of dairy farming. The global value of such technology is estimated at over £1bn annually and set to grow substantially through pressure to meet high standards of animal welfare and to reduce environmental impact.

In 2004 IceRobotics designed a research tool (now sold in over 30 countries) to monitor cattle behaviour on a second-by-second basis. By optimising sensor placement, results indicated that automated detection of lameness should be feasible. Further Innovate UK supported research has subsequently enabled a world-leading system to be developed and validated. This incorporates wireless, remote activity measurement, with cloud-based real-time analysis and alerting.

The system is being marketed under the product brand name of “CowAlert”, which is now being sold to dairy farmers worldwide. Recent data has shown that farms applying the technology can move from lower to upper quartile productivity in just 12 months. It has already been installed in over 200 farms and fitted to over 50,000 cattle across Europe.

SME growth through R&D and new collaborations

The IceRobotics CowAlert technology provides a step change in cattle management, allowing precision dairy farming, through continuous herd measurement and real-time data.

Innovate UK has supported IceRobotics to bring its innovative capabilities to establish strong partnerships with leading companies and institutions across the UK. For instance, it facilitated the £1.7m “DASIE” project with Harper Adams University, dairy processor Müller and dairy consultants Kingshay.

This involvement in cutting-edge research partnerships has yielded significant business benefits. From 2008 IceRobotics has grown from 5 employees to 21 and attracted over £3M in private capital investment with sales continuing to grow globally.

How did the KTN and Innovate UK help?

KTN has worked with IceRobotics since 2008 to build relationships and collaborative projects helping to take the technology to market. Research opportunities identified by KTN and supported by Innovate UK have helped IceRobotics build a solid pipeline of R&D projects totalling over £2.8M. Smaller awards have also allowed IceRobotics to establish other new collaborations, such as with the University of Liverpool.

  • KTN helped IceRobotics to develop an R&D pipeline allowing product commercialisation;
  • KTN introduced IceRobotics to a wide network of partners that led to new collaborations;
  • KTN helped with winning over £2.8M in competitive funding.

Robert Boyce, Director and co-founder of IceRobotics said:

“Support from David Telford at the KTN and Innovate UK has provided IceRobotics with an invaluable source of networking and funding which has resulted in successful new collaborations and projects. Without this support our company would not have been able to grow and develop our innovative new products”.

 

You can find out more about IceRobotics CowAlert and their other products here.

If you have an innovative agri-tech idea that you would like to take forward please feel free to contact a member of the KTN Agri-Food Team.

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