A New Zealand company that uses Artificial Intelligence-enabled audio sensors for respiratory health monitoring of animals on commercial animal farms, is going global after signing two memoranda of understanding (MoU) with a Chinese pig farm and a Chinese AgTech solution provider.
MACSO is a pioneering new Auckland-based company set up to establish the building blocks of ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI). Its MoU’s are with a government demo farm in the region of Jinhua, a province in eastern China, and a pig farm tech solution provider who currently provides vision AI solutions for thousands of pig farms in China.
These agreements will allow MACSO’s contacts in China to test its technology and distribute it nationwide if a two-month trial period, starting this quarter, is successful. Commercial terms can then be negotiated with the farm to distribute the solution in the greater China region.
China raises 650 million pigs each year; it is the world’s biggest swine market, ahead of Europe and the US. The three big regions combine to a $560m market. Of all swine deaths, 60 percent are from respiratory illnesses.
The trial in China was kickstarted through Callaghan Innovation’s trailblazer seed fund, used for commercialising products, with the $15,000 funding matched by MACSO. The trial will use 24 devices across three indoor barns. Each device suspends off the barn roof like a ceiling fan and is like a human ear fitted with AI and can monitor up to 120 pigs.
“What I had in mind was to create an AI platform that replicates the sensory part of the human brain, in this case, our ears,” MASCO founder Saba Samiei said.
MASCO’s solution also gives farmers the monitoring ability which is always present everywhere.
“We are very excited – It’s a big deal. It’s a paid trial. The criteria for us were someone who has a good understanding of the market, has connections, and the capability to become a distributor for us and has a modern enough farm that has Wi-Fi.
“After the trial we are then going to negotiate a distribution channel throughout China with these parties,” explains Samiei.
Samiei says the trial can be extended under the MoU’s terms if required “but our experience shows that we will be able to see the benefits, measured by death rate reduction – which is dependent on how responsive the farmer is to the alerts that they receive. What we have promised in the MOU is a 95 percent accuracy rate, which matches the accuracy rate measured on existing trials.”
The technology provides a potential artificial intelligence solution for farmers throughout China.
“Farmers are not AI experts, we can’t expect them to develop things on their own, but we know that AI can help them a lot; so, what we have done is developed a solution that is so easy for them to buy and install and then monitor their farm using the AI,” says Samiei.
“That’s how we are making it accessible.”
Getting the test at a farm in China took three months of hard work. Samiei says MASCO has been testing this solution for more than a year, as well as being able to measure the success of the tests.
“We are training AI exactly like a human ear so it will capture everything and send an alert when a certain threshold is reached,” says Samiei.
The solution was first launched in June 2023 at the World Pork Expo in the United States.
Testing the technology on a farm in Minnesota reduced the death rate of pigs down from an average of 4.8 percent to 1.4 percent. Earlier, the US landed its animal welfare legislation, which meant a lot of farmers had to close their farms. Four years prior, when the solution was discussed, the Chinese government was dealing with an African swine flu outbreak which resulted in a loss of 0.78 percent of the country’s GDP and the death of 43.5m pigs. While African swine flu is not a respiratory illness, the outbreak indicates the importance of preventing contagious outbreaks of which respiratory illnesses such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), pneumonia and swine flu are a big part.
“From a company perspective we knew that when the US market picks back up again that will be our time again to get into that market, especially off the back of the highly positive feedback we have from our pilot farm,” Samiei says.
MACSO’s solutions go beyond audio, and beyond animal health – the startup is developing air quality monitoring and a standalone solution for noise filtration.
Story by Dave Crampton