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Cattle Ranching Gains from IoT-based Intelligence

Chipsafer has completed two African pilots of its LoRa technology-powered system to locate cattle on large ranches and track their behavior; similar pilots in Europe, South America and Australia are ongoing.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 06, 2017

Uruguayan startup Chipsafer has completed two pilots of an Internet of Things (IoT)-based solution to track the activities of beef livestock and prevent cattle rustling. The system employs long-range (LoRa) and LoRa wide-area network (LoRaWAN) technology from Semtech, as well as Chipsafer's wireless sensors worn by cattle. The solution is intended to help ranchers understand cattle behavior and detect a problem, such as a cow being removed from a ranch or falling ill, when they attach Chipsafer's wireless sensor transmitters to the animals. While the two pilots—one carried out in Namibia, the other in Kenya—are complete, similar ongoing pilots are under way in Brazil, Uruguay, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Australia.

According to the company, the system is designed to provide a low-cost solution for tracking animals in ranch environments in which RFID or other wireless sensor devices would not be able to interrogate tags. Victoria Alonsoperez, a Uruguayan electronics and telecommunication engineer and entrepreneur who co-invented Chipsafer and founded the company, refers to the technology as the "Internet of Cows."

Alonsoperez got an early start in technology development. In 2001, at the age of 12, she was inspired by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Uruguay to seek a wireless technology to track cow movements, thereby enabling farmers to know where their livestock has been and when an infected cow might have been in contact with other animals. In 2012, she developed the product that she calls Chipsafer while working as a teaching associate at the International Space University.

Semtech's Vivek Mohan
In 2015, when LoRa was released, Alonsoperez redeveloped the system to transmit via LoRa networks. LoRa is an alternative to Wi-Fi or cellular transmissions and has a longer range than active RFID, so it doesn't require as many readers in an area such as a cattle ranch. In fact, LoRa transmitters can communicate with a LoRaWAN gateway at a distance of up to 13 kilometers (8.1 miles).

Semtech, a provider of mixed-signal semiconductors, developed LoRa for long-range reads in environments in which infrequent data transmissions are most common. The company achieved early success with LoRa technology for water and gas meter management in Asia, says Vivek Mohan, the director of Semtech's Wireless and Sensing Products Group, and has since expanded to other applications, including the Chipsafer livestock-management solution and smart-city applications.

Beef cattle ranching poses unique technology challenges, Alonsoperez says. While dairy cattle typically pass through a confined area twice daily for milking, beef cattle can stray across a wide range with less regimented movement. Therefore, RFID technology is less likely to capture the tag ID of every animal on a regular basis under such circumstances. Wi-Fi, active RFID and cellular systems can be expensive, she notes, and networks are not always available in remote areas. For that reason, she adds, LoRa provided a solution.

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