WELCH, Minn. – As dairy progresses into the future, the use of technology will also increase on farms.
    “We’ve had this proliferation of technology that didn’t exist even 20 years ago when I was working on software,” said Dr. Tom Stein from Maximus Systems.
    Stein presented “What’s Ahead in the Technology World” Dec. 6 at the Vita Plus Dairy Summit 2018 in Welch, Minn.
    “You guys in dairy are way ahead – DHIA data, sensors on cows, activity monitors. We don’t have any of that stuff in the swine or poultry industry,” said Stein, who has worked on creating software that tracks pigs.
    He has also been working on software to manage farms with several sites and thousands of sows.
    “That’s a different design challenge than building software for just one farm [site],” Stein said. “When you have these super organisms, you have to think differently when designing the software to manage and track all that.”
    Stein said this type of technology will likely be coming to dairy in the near future as farms get bigger. Stein is working on a system that is a single box to manage various activities on multiple farm sites. It takes data from sensors around the farm and sends it to the cloud every few seconds.
    “This is a new approach to the controller,” he said.
    As the size of farms shift, Stein anticipates the dairy industry to start adapting technology such as machine learning and voice assistance in the coming years.
    “A lot of people call this artificial intelligence. But that’s a buzz word,” Stein said about machine learning. “All this is, is taking human knowledge and translating it into something computers can do for us.”
    As an example, Stein shared a story about a cucumber farmer he knew in Japan, who returned to the farm to help his parents. The most tedious task was sorting cucumbers into the categories rated for quality. He took 10,000 pictures of cucumbers and gave each one a designated category. He then fed the pictures through a Google program that came up with an algorithm that could sort the cucumbers based on the pictures he took.
    The farmer made a simple machine for the program to continue sorting. He would lie a computer down on glass, a camera would take a picture and the cucumber would move down a conveyer and be sorted into the correct bin after a paddle was activated by the software based on the picture.
    “I want you to know machine learning, artificial intelligence … it’s not a big scary thing and it’s not a generalized intelligence,” Stein said.
    In the dairy industry, this type of technology could be used to detect mastitis or other health issues. A device would collect activity and rumination from the cow.
    “As they put this technology in and collect more and more data from more and more dairy farms, the algorithm gets better and better driven by humans saying a cow is sick or not sick,” Stein said. “This machine learning is like a database. It’s an underlying technology that’s going to be embedded everywhere.”
    The algorithms will predict, categorize or find patterns in data, Stein said.
    Voice assistance is another technology that is in the early stages in agriculture. It is already being used widely on a personal basis through Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
    “They’re taking over and will probably be one of the biggest Christmas gifts this year,” Stein said.
    Farmers would be able to use voice-based data entry while doing herd checks or while looking for insects in their fields, Stein said.
    “The cool thing about this is that it provides for workflow,” he said. “It would be automatically transcribed to a written report, but also one that is voice enabled to be able to listen back later.”
    As machine learning and voice assistance grow, so will the use of automated systems such as robotic milkers, feed pushers, feed systems, automatic ventilation systems and even autonomous vehicle among other equipment activated by sensors.
    This increased use of technology will require 5G cellular data service, Stein said.
    “It will be rolling out in some places next year, but it has about three to four years to go,” Stein said. “It will mean new cell phones and a whole new network of cell towers required for 5G. It’s not faster data transition, but it’s more data moving through the pipe.”
    Stein said the work is in place for this technology to arrive on more farms soon.
    “It will make life easier and will help support day-to-day management on farms,” he said. “This is not crazy, not pie in the sky. It’s basically a lot of tedious work to get the prediction algorithms and voice based coming.”