Wearable tech coming for ag

There have been many starts and stops with wearable technology in the mainstream marketplace. Smart watches have come and gone, and now appear to be gaining some traction again. Google GlassTM wearable computing devices peaked on the hype cycle then disappeared, but it and other eyewear devices are now finding a home in technical training and specific-use applications, including agriculture.

Sales of smart personal monitors like Fitbit exploded over the past two years, but the market has shifted from a fad to the “show me the real benefits” stage.

Wearables for livestock

Devices designed specifically for agriculture have targeted livestock rather than humans. Ear tags and collars that monitor temperature, heartbeat, respiration and location are available for beef and dairy cows. Some devices have cameras as well. The data collected can help farmers manage herd health and detect estrus for more efficient breeding.

There’s even a bolus e-pill that stays in a cow’s rumen for life, sending data, including rumen activity, to cloud-based software. Changes in any of the vitals are often an indicator of health problems. The algorithms used to monitor the data and predict problems will only get better as more data is collected.  

It’s even possible to geo-fence specific animals, automatically opening or closing access to pens or fields based on the GPS location of the animal. This is an Internet of Things (IoT) scenario where wearable devices interact with other connected things.

There’ll be even more livestock-oriented wearable technology because of the surge in devices being developed for the pet industry, a market that could reach US$2.4 billion by 2022, according to Grand View Research. Livestock-rugged versions will trickle down to meet agricultural needs.

Wearables for workers

For we humans, there are wearable devices that, while not designed for agriculture, can deliver benefits. Construction companies can invest in a smart safety vest that alerts equipment operators of workers’ locations, even when they can’t be seen. Ultimately, the vests and machines will interact and the equipment will automatically stop to avoid injury – an obvious fit for farms, where people and heavy equipment often work in close proximity.

Equipment manufacturer Caterpillar is developing Smartband, technology that monitors and manages fatigue levels of operators. The goal is to understand how fatigue can affect health, safety and operational performance. Caterpillar claims the Smartband can assess ongoing sleep patterns and predict how a worker's fatigue will change for up to 18 hours after the start of their day.

Wearable devices are just another example of how connected sensor technology will allow us to manage, monitor and measure almost anything. 

From an AgriSuccess article (January 2018) by Peter Gredig.