Innovation / IoT – Pigs on WiFi
A case study of a IoT project at the University of Copenhagen (Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (IVH) under the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences)
How the project came about
Thomas Thymann and Flemming Lyng were in cozy circumstances and the topic fell on how to carry out tests with preterm neonatal pigs, that had great challenges with the development and often became somewhat underdeveloped compared to those who were born on time.
The new thing is that with colostrum from cows you try to find the right amount. Likewise, one tries to find the most suitable intervals for the dosage in order for the piglets to experience the best well-being, and thus maximizing their immune system.
The experiments should be scaled up so that they could form a better set of data, and that would require many employees. A task that seemed unmanageable with the current manual method.
Maybe Flemming could build some kind of automation with a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) that could control and measure and scale up the experiments?
About the project
The purpose of the experiment is to clarify the correlation of damage to the brain after premature birth seen in relation to cognitive development. For this, the institute must use an experimental setup to present choices for the piglets and then give them a reward if they perform their duties correctly. As Flemming has previous experience with both hardware and software from a past as an electrician and professional alarm installer, this project is perfectly suited to the skills that Flemming possesses. Following this, an agreement was made that NorthTech was to build a rapid prototype for beta testing.
After a brief matching of expectations, the work started with the creation of an experimental set-up that could meet the many requirements, among others that the battery capacity should be guaranteed. Challenges associated with the project of testing on animals were also faced, since a rugged set-up is required, where the animals can stay safe.
This type of experiment has traditionally been a heavy manual task, where employees or students have performed the experiments with the piglets. They were expected to behave differently on a number of symbols. This is the process that they are now trying to automate. In this way human errors and human influence on the practical part of the experiment will effectively be excluded.
Moreover, the long-term target is more easily to be able to apply the results from the new testing method in the treatment of premature born human infants.
The piglet is supposed to push the correct button
Time for relaxing..
Technical details are discussed
Experimental setup in the garage
In this project, hardware and software meet in one single solution based on an installation of Windows 10 IoT Core on a Raspberry Pi. From here, sensors in the rest of the installation can be controlled, and simultaneously all time stamps and their results are stored in log files, both locally and in the cloud.
Windows 10 IoT-Core is a good solution for this project. among other things because of the integration of an Azure cloud solution, that handles security. It is very important in connection with data traffic, and at the same time the system regularly offers automatic updates. One small drawback here could be that you have been limited to the use of the Windows platform. However, in this case, it has proved to be perfect.
The solution is connected to the Internet via WiFi or mobile broadband. Thus, in the future, it can run automatically during the day, and it can be monitored and controlled centrally via the client-server model.
Evaluation - Next steps
The project has currently conducted a very successful beta test. For this reason, the next milestone for NorthTech is the making of a scalable serial production of an experimental set-up. It can be created based on many industrial standard components, which will enable a rugged and reliable design to be achieved. By doing this, the experiments can be upscaled aiming on an actual data-based decision-making process. In other words, a good basis for decision derived from classified and valid large testing datasets.
Although IoT (Internet of Things) is the new hot topic, it is not everywhere that IoT is used equally successfully. Among other things, this is due to the fact, that the market is flooded with cheap components and sensors, that are good for DIY projects. However, they are not suitable for industrial solutions that have to be put into mass production. Clearly, it is not recommended to save money for the equipment in a research context, where the crucial product is to collect knowledge through data. On the contrary, it is essential that you can rely on your equipment, both in terms of correct measurements and reliable operation.
Aspects of IoT can be seen in many solutions today, and especially in connection with data collection and automation, it makes good sense. In the future, NorthTech wants to be a part of this innovation environment and we are expanding our engagement in this field day by day.
If you have an exciting idea for a similar project and you need information, knowledge exchange, or guidance, you are very welcome to contact us. We would very much like to take a non-committal conversation about your project, possibly with guidance on how to proceed with it.
Statement from the University of Copenhagen
“In 2018, our research group at the University of Copenhagen initiated a collaboration with NorthTech. We contacted Flemming Lyng, with a desire to develop equipment for assessing animal behavior and intelligence. In a fully automated manner the equipment allows a quantification of the frequency in which the animals are able to solve a given task. The task itself is to recognize a light signal and to touch a sensor, thereby triggering a reward for the animal. The equipment had to be designed from scratch, and has required in-depth knowledge of soft and hardware development. In addition, an extensive material knowledge has been necessary in order for the equipment to appear in a neat design, with high functionality and long-term durability. As a customer of NorthTech, I can only say that NorthTech, personified by Flemming Lyng, has been extremely competent and professional in all phases of the working process. All technical challenges have been discussed and resolved in the absolute best manner. I can only give my very best recommendations for other potential NorthTech customers. ”
Thomas Thymann, Professor at the University of Copenhagen