AWI’s collaboration with growAG. captures commercial interest in wearable tech for sheep
The growAG. platform has provided Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) with greater exposure of its pioneering smart tags for sheep. With early interest from investors and woolgrowers alike, the potential of AWI’s innovative tech is clear. So, too, is the role for growAG. in encouraging collaboration, investment and world-leading solutions in the Australian agritech sector.
Woolgrowers are one step closer to joining the smart tag revolution thanks to an innovative smart tag developed by AWI. Using accelerometer, proximity and position data to track sheep movement, activity and interactions, AWI’s smart tags give woolgrowers the ability to continuously observe and monitor key animal behaviours. The digital 24-hour ‘shepherd’ uses sophisticated algorithms to process raw data into meaningful information to guide decision-making and improve production outcomes.
AWI’s smart tag, the first-of-its-kind designed specifically for sheep, has woolgrowers and investors excited. Earlier this year, AWI shared its commercial opportunity on the growAG. platform, a global marketplace for Australian agrifood innovation (and another first-of-its-kind). The collaboration has seen AWI field enquiries, through growAG., from commercial partners and woolgrowers keen to partner on this pioneering product.
AWI’s Program Manager of Agri-Technology, Carolina Diaz explained, “The first week after the growAG. launch was amazing. We had six contacts responding to this commercial opportunity. They were mostly tech companies wanting to collaborate to use our tags to gather data for the [analytics] platform that they already have in place, some of which are existing commercial products.”
They weren't the right fit for AWI just yet, as they’re currently seeking investors to help finalise development. But Carolina explained, “It was good for AWI, because we started to think about how this product could look in the future. And it gave us tech provider contacts who we can call on to establish a partnership or collaboration once the product is in the market.”
growAG. has increased AWI’s visibility to investors, and provides greater opportunities for industry collaboration and partnerships to flourish. growAG.’s producer audience have also seen the potential of this new tech and enquired through growAG., to partake in on-farm trials. “It's always good to have woolgrowers interested, because they’ll be the early adopters,” said Carolina.
With on-farm trials already underway, those woolgrowers are collaborating with AWI in other ways: by informing and validating development.
“We took the opportunity to discuss with woolgrowers where we are heading with analysing grazing, reproductive and disease behaviours, to get their insights and validate that we are on the right pathway.”
“Our strategy around the smart tags has been to provide woolgrowers with a more rounded product – something that's almost ready to go. Because we understand that for them, it's better to wait a bit more for a product that is going to deliver proper functionalities and not just data. It's going to be easier for them if the data is converted into alerts [that tell woolgrowers] if something is wrong, or something has happened. The woolgrowers gave us good ideas about future functionalities. So growAG. has been really useful for that.”
The world’s first smart tag tailor-made for small animals
There are smart tags already on the market for the cattle, but they’re too big for smaller animals. Other companies are developing smaller versions of big tags. But the key advantage of AWI’s tag is that was specifically designed to suit sheep – it’s not just a cattle tag shrunk down.
Carolina explained, “The cattle industry had options, but nobody was progressing with a smart tag for sheep. So we funded R&D to make it happen.”
AWI set itself three design principles: the tag must be self-sufficient; durable in even the toughest grazing conditions; and low-cost. “Price is key to every decision, said Carolina. “We’re determined to make it cost/benefit competitive so more woolgrowers adopt the technology.”
The result of three years of product development and trials are solar-powered permanent ear tags for lifetime data collection, and battery-powered re-usable collar tags for specific temporary uses such as monitoring lambs prior to weaning. Ear tags can be applied using regular applicators, further keeping costs down.
The system uses 3G and 4G network connectivity, and Carolina said, “We haven’t found a single property in the trials where we haven’t been able to establish the connection.”
And the tag’s robustness has been proven in the paddock, with trials in Barcaldine, central Queensland, yielding good results. Carolina said, “This was an important trial to test connectivity and robustness in remote areas. We learned a lot and made some refinements. We’re always learning and looking to improve.”
growAG. collaboration helps to narrow AWI’s search for the right investor
AWI’s path to commercialisation is straightforward. AWI has secured patents for the technology and has a production line set up in China. They’ve already funded further research on key targets in sheep productivity and profitability, and expect results in 2022.
Carolina said, “We’re looking for a partner to help us get it to market and into the hands of woolgrowers.” That might be a tech company that want to take over manufacturing and distribution, or investors who see the transformative potential of this solution for the wool and sheep meat industries, and can fund the final stages of development.
Traditionally attracting investor interest in commercial opportunities has been challenging for Rural Research and Development Corporations like AWI, that aren’t startups, but still need to be connected to innovators and capital investors.
Carolina believes growAG. fills a critical gap in the Australian agritech ecosystem – collating research projects and commercial opportunities to drive collaboration and attract the investment needed to deliver innovative tech to market.
“Without growAG. we just use the AWI communication channels. growAG. gives us exposure to different people from different industries and from different parts of our industry. We can't reach the amount of people, and the variety of people, that growAG. can.”
“Validating, informing, and opening future pathways for collaboration with technological partners. That’s what a partnership with growAG. has given us.”
The small smart tag with big market potential
Purpose built for small animals; proven connectivity in remote areas; and robust in tough conditions – all attributes which set AWI’s smart tag apart. But the potential applications are what is grabbing the attention of woolgrowers and investors.
Initial development focused on flock management. Carolina explained, “We started with only mothering-up trials, but we quickly realised the tag’s potential so started looking at other behaviours.”
Trials are underway to validate the mounting behaviour of rams at joining, helping woolgrowers understand which ewe is being mounted, and establish lambing dates. Other trials are assessing the tag’s capacity to detect health and welfare threats. “The value of our tag will be in value-adding for grazing and reproductive management,” said Carolina. These are areas, she added, with real promise for boosting on-farm returns.
Find out more about this commercial opportunity here if you’re seeking to partner with AWI for technology development or to collaborate for research.
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