Actual Headline: “Cows Send Texts to Announce They’re in Heat”

In the previous post, the Jester mentioned, purely hypothetically, “a wireless udder monitor that sends cattle owners an SMS when their cows are due for a milking.” Just weeks later, life imitates blog. The New York Times reports, in all seriousness, that Swiss researchers are working on a device that sends SMS text messages to farmers when their cows are in heat. Despite its serious reportage, the article mocks the Jester by leaving him with little room for comedic improvement. Nevertheless, some excerpts below from the article with Jesterly annotation.

  • “The results are combined, using algorithms, and if the cow is in heat an SMS is sent to the farmer.” (Whoa, algorithms! This quote from a computer scientist is sure to seduce non-technical technology lovers.)
  • “Our recognition rate is about 90 percent.” (Pretty good, unless you’re a cow in the 10%. For example…)
  • Occasionally, the device would send a false signal that a cow was in heat, he said. Other times, it failed to detect when one of the cows was in an amorous mood. (The Jester wonders how this works with artificial insemination.)
  • The device, known as a heat detector, raises concerns among animal rights advocates, not so much because of its intrusiveness in the private parts of the cow — its use involves inserting a thermometer with a tiny transmitter and antenna in the cow’s genitals — but because of what it says about the stressful lives of Swiss cows. (The article also mentions some interesting tidbits about the animal-rights awareness of the Swiss, by the way.)
  • It also prompts skepticism among dairy farmers, who are startled by its cost, which is expected to be at least $1,400 per unit. (No doubt, someone will start working on a low-cost version for the developing world any moment now.)
  • “It happens fairly frequently that you miss the right moment.” (Common problem in international development.)
  • “With greater productivity there is a drop in reproductive activity.” (Heretofore unknown problem in international development!)
  • “The first attempts were not trouble free,” he said. “The problem was with the sensors. They were not sturdy enough.” (Ruggedness! Cow context differs from human context.)
  • “Cost is important” … “It’s a cost-benefit question.” (Calling all ICT4D-ers! Opportunity for BOP innovation to impact the Global North!)

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