Applied Research and Innovation Services

Researchers develop drone for “precision” cattle farming

Ranching hits the air waves AND the air.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) lead researcher Glen Kathler’s award-winning RFID cattle-tracking system is about reach new heights. Now, RFID animal-identification and tracking technologies will be incorporated into drones to read and track cattle in the field.

In B.C., where the mountainous terrain makes it harder to find strays, ranchers have started using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to locate the approximately 15 per cent of cattle that don’t return home when the weather turns cold.

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) professor and cattle research chair John Church has been investigating the use of UAVs in the cattle industry for quite some time, but ran into some snags incorporating tag-reading capabilities into drones. To assist, he contacted Kathler to work on a $664,000 NSERC-funded project to develop an RFID antennae that can be mounted on a drone and receive signals from ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID ear tags.

Kathler says this project is a perfect extension of his successful work with the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and cattle-industry stakeholders. Together, they developed a working prototype UHF-RFID cattle-tracking system between 2009 and 2014.

“SAIT is pleased to bring our expertise and leadership in applied research to this initiative,” says Kathler. “Our collaboration with Thompson Rivers University combines two sophisticated skill sets in agricultural research. TRU’s thermal-imaging expertise, combined with SAIT’s successful RFID animal-tracking research and prototyping, helps to further enhance the high standards of the livestock industry in maintaining food-chain safety.”

The resulting drone technology will be not only be able to detect the location of missing cattle, but also identify them through their UHF-RFID tags, and possibly even herd them back to the ranch.

For information about how to work with SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services department, call 403.284.7056, email applied.research@sait.ca or visit our website.

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