As weird as it is to me to know that ranching is part of agriculture, I do find it interesting that the price points on medical technology means that new techniques can move into the industry. Artificial intelligence in medicine has been a big part of its growth. Now AI is also moving to help ranchers to better manage their herds.
While much of the focus on AI in the field has been on vision and back-end analysis, the real world has a lot of another sense that matters – sound. In human medicine, of the first and easiest tools to use is the x-ray. That’s why radiology first started using AI to look for cancers. However, that’s not a reasonable tool for ranching and there are far more dangerous lung problems impacting herds. Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is very contagious. It can cause pneumonia in calve, and that can be fatal. Just as with most other diseases in humans and other animals, the earlier BRD can be identified and treated, the better.
Given that BRD is, as the name clearly states, a respiratory disease, researchers at Merck Animal Health. realized that they could use microphones to capture sounds and then AI to analyze those sound for key features. As with vision, neural networks are the optimal tool for the complex analysis of the captured sound. Because this is a new area and yet there are experts who have an idea of key features, supervised learning is what they have used to train the system.
“As the use of sound recordings for BRD isn’t as widespread as radiology in humans,” said Udi Cohen, Ph.D., Head of Global R&D, Merck Animal Health Intelligence Technology Labs. “There is no comparable large database for system training. Using features calculated from the data, supervised learning allows us to identify elements that should be used for recognizing BRD. As the dataset grows, we will always be looking to see what additional tools can come into use.”
As cattle are run through the working chute, the current version of the WHISPER on Arrival is an external attachment for a recording device.
I expect that as versions of the machine evolve, and more diagnostics are supported by AI and other technologies in the field, that equipment will become integrated into increasingly advanced chutes that provide better analysis of a wider variet of livestock conditions.
Agriculture is a wide, varied, and complex series of industries that are critical to supporting our large global population. Tools which help to more efficiently manage agriculture are critical. When it improves the human care of livestock, it’s even more important. Artificial intelligence is finding its way into an increasing number of agricultural applications, and analysis to minimize the impact of BRD is one of the latest.