Facial recognition is good for more than security features on Facebook and organizing photo albums. The artificial intelligence-based technology could soon help ensure that milk in the fridge came from a well-fed cow. That’s right, facial recognition now works on cows. This week, agricultural company Cargill and machine-vision company Cainthus announced a partnership that will create an A.I. system for dairy farmers.

The image-recognition system is able to recognize a cow using both the animal’s pattern of spots and the cow’s actual face. However, the system takes a few seconds to recognize an individual cow.

Facial recognition for cows

What is the goal exactly?

The goal of the system is to identify each cow, locate it in a pasture and measure vital health information like weight, size, facial features, and physical activity. Giving drones the ability to monitor just how much food and water each cow receives turns, what would be several weeks, manual processes into something that happens almost in real-time. With that information, dairy farmers can anticipate issues and use the information to adjust feeding — all factors that can help increase a farm’s efficiency, along with preventing animal loss.
“We’re actually trying to quantify the behavioral and physiological changes,” said a spokesperson. “If we want to use [UAVs] as a monitoring device, how does it affect them? Is it positive, negative or neutral?”

Facial recognition for cows

How it works

In order to test autonomous flights, a flight center was set up in a basement lab of a mechanical engineering building. Here, retroreflective markers were used to triangulate the position of the drones and cows in the space.
There is a software run by a nearby computer that takes information and gives it to the worker drones which coordinate and tell the position of a cow. The interesting part of this test was that there were actually no real cows but just one model who was named Chuck.

“We’re trying to prove that this method is safe before we take it outside and work with real cattle,” said the spokesperson. “Everything is completely autonomous, but we have a fail-safe where pilots can take over if things get a little unstable.”

The basic idea is that a cow would be led into the pen, and each camera would be able to capture images from 40+ angles in order to create a 3D cow model. The cameras are so fast that they can capture 360-degree images of nearly 50 cows per day.

The autonomous drone project we saw is still years from being completed, but when it is, it will be a proof of concept for improving efficiency on the farms and lightening the physical work of small-herd farmers.