Home automation solutions to facilitate control and safety of intensive livestock farms

December 19, 2012

To transfer home automation systems to intensive livestock farms and thus improve their control/monitoring and safety/security. That is the aim of the project entitled "High availability teleservice centre for intensive livestock farms based on home automation and telecommunications solutions" started three years ago and which, funded by the Government of Navarre, has been turned into reality with a pilot study set up on a farm in Oscoz. The engineers from the UPNA-Public University of Navarre Ignacio Matías, Eduardo Jaunsaras and Juan Manuel Galindo have been commissioned to design the system and adapt it to the needs and requirements of different farms.

As Ignacio Matías-Maestro, Professor of Electronics Technology, pointed out: "We have opted to use mobile technology for managing it as well, so that over the Internet or through a telephone application the farmer can monitor/control the farm completely." Specifically, the UPNA engineers have adapted home automation systems to the requirements of intensive farms of different animals: sheep, cows, rabbits, hens, etc. "In the home, what takes precedence are the amenities, while on a livestock farm the essential aspect is the security/safety and control/monitoring of the animals," explains Eduardo Jaunsaras Munarriz, industrial engineer and main collaborator in the project. "The critical parameters are established by each user because each farm is different: on a poultry farm temperature control is crucial for egg laying, while on others, for example, the accumulation of gases has to be monitored because that can cause asphyxia and kill all the animals."

The design of the installation includes two types of devices: location of sensors to detect the variables, and actuators to determine which action is carried out. For example, if there is a fault or variation in the system, the sensors would detect it and the actuators would execute the actions determined in advance by the user: open the windows, turn off the gas, discontinue the supply of water, increase the temperature, etc. "Once the alarm has gone off," points out Ignacio Matías, "the farmer will decide what action he/she wants taken. Technically speaking, everything is possible: doors and windows can be opened, the temperature can be raised or lowered, etc."

Control using the mobile phone

The system can be controlled over the Internet or through an application that the farmer can download onto his/her mobile phone. Webcams have been installed on the farm, so he/she can see what is being recorded by the cameras. What is more, it is possible to access all the information gathered by the sensors (temperature, humidity, gas, etc.) and action can be taken, for example, to turn up the heating if the temperature is too low. It is also possible to programme alerts, an alert sent to a mobile phone if there is any abnormal situation; for example, if the presence of people is detected in unauthorised places, if the range of humidity on the premises rises above the previously established limits, etc.

"The important thing is that farmers know that this technology exists, that it can be applied and adapted to each farm, that they can go away on holiday for a few days knowing that the area is being monitored/controlled and, should something happen, they are going to be able to act quickly," say the engineers.

In this respect, they explain that working on this project "has provided us with knowledge, so that we can get to know the needs of a collective that we knew nothing about. For example, we did not know that there are different requirements for a cattle farm, depending on whether the cows are for producing meat or milk. We didn't know either that a fault in a farm's installation can cause the death of all the chickens; they are fairly frequent cases which are not always covered by insurance or turn out to be very costly, and they are faults that can be prevented by using the new technology."

The project has involved various players: the UAGN, the Trade Union of Farmers and Stockbreeders of Navarre, and INTIA, the Navarrese Institute of Agri-food Technologies and Infrastructure, have contributed their knowledge of the sector and established what parameters are important on each kind of farm; the companies Ingeniería Domótica and EGA Informática handle the installation and computer control, respectively. "We," points out Eduardo Jaunsaras "handle the design of the installation. After that, the companies undertake to install and market the product that has been developed."

Right now, the system is functioning in Oscoz where INTIA has an Artificial Insemination Centre in which they mostly breed pigs and rabbits. Among the differences the engineers have found when it comes to adapting the system to farms is the location of the surveillance webcams, which are not used in homes; the complexity of the installation, which in private homes can be handled by an electrician; and the fact that the sensors, which are exposed to the elements, are different and need special protection.

Ignacio Matias points out, "It is about innovating: about using what exists already and applying it to a new environment, like that of farms." Apart from that, the unusual feature is that "the control/monitoring systems existing until now are closed ones where there is no scope for action. The farmer, for example, cannot say that as his/her farm faces south, it needs this but not that, this is an individualisation aspect that we do in fact tackle in this project."

Elhuyar Fundazioa

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