Keeping pigs and bees healthy with a chip

Many blame factory farming methods for the current swine flu pandemic. Now an Israeli company may have the answer – a chip technology that can pinpoint sick animals for speedy isolation.

With today’s factory farming methods blamed by many as the cause of outbreaks like the swine flu epidemic now infecting people globally, it’s no surprise that interest in Israeli start-up CartaSense is running so high.

The company has created technology that can pinpoint a sick pig or cow in real-time, and help the farmer isolate sickness without contaminating the rest of the animals.

Based in Petah Tikva, CartaSense has developed a small chip-based sensor that can be attached to the ear of a pig. The sensor, which should be ready for market by the end of this year, tracks and traces a number of parameters for all kinds of livestock.

The sensors are hooked up wirelessly to base stations, from where CartaSense monitors an animal’s temperature, heart rate, movements and location. 

“It could spare us from future outbreaks of mutant viruses transmitted from livestock to humans,” Sharon Soustiel, vice president of business development at the start-up, tells ISRAEL21c.

Monitoring animals at home on the range


In the US, where pastures tend to be large and open, “there is now no need to take a helicopter or a Jeep out to the pigs,” says Soustiel. “A farmer can see real-time, from home, the health of any of the animals on the farm and can take swift action, if need be.”

This kind of solution, he stresses, may be too late to stop the H1Ni virus (swine flu) this time, “but with it we can avoid the next epidemic or breakout disease.”

CartaSense already has a product called Bull-Connect. It’s a sensor attached to the ear of a cow. The Bull-Connect technology is now being adapted for pigs. A single base station will handle thousands of sensors hooked up to porcine subjects. 

The company also provides complete back end software, communications, and server support, so that updates and alerts can be sent as text messages to cell phones. 

The sensors can save an immense amount of time and resources, while sparing farmers from culling animals unnecessarily. 

“A farmer needs to take immediate action if an animal is sick, but rather than checking with veterinarians first – to decide what action to take if one of the animals is sick – our system lets a farmer see for himself and isolate single animals from the group if signs of sickness appear,” says Soustiel.

Saving the bees and the trees

Soustiel notes that the company also has a novel solution for monitoring bee colonies to protect them from theft or colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD is the mysterious condition that’s decimating bee populations in the US and around the world.   

By placing sensors in a thin platform that’s placed below a hive, CartaSense can track its weight. An empty hive weighs about 33 lb (15 kilos), while a full one, containing honey and a healthy bee population, should weigh about 330 lb (150 kilos). Tracking the growth of a hive on a graph, CartaSense can see any deviations from normal hive growth and alert a hive owner immediately. 

The chip-based sensor attached to the hive, called Bee-Connect, also tracks bee movement inside the hive, as well as temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, and provides important security information, such as location, in the event that a hive is stolen or damaged. 

Daily reports sent to apiarists alert them to outbreaks and disturbances, and help them to decide whether or not to move the hive to a different location for “sweeter” results. 

CartaSense has also adapted its technology for trees. Tree-Connect helps farmers to monitor water levels in orchards, by providing data relating to ground humidity levels, fertilizer levels, the amount of salinity in the soil as well as possible infestation. 

Founded in 2006, CartaSense employs 15 people. The company is currently looking to close a $3 million round of funding for which it is negotiating with potential investors from Israel and around the world.

 

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.