We’ve all seen examples over the past few years of complex IoT technology solutions to help solve real-world problems from a variety of small companies. In fact, last year while I was at the ARM Holdings annual industry analyst conference and TechCon, a gathering of the ARM ecosystem powers, you could find hundreds, if not thousands of examples of this. Yet, there is one solution that recently grabbed my attention when I got to play with a prototype last week. This novel ARM Holdings, Freescale Semiconductor, and InvenSense-based solution is called NIGHTWATCH and is in late-stage development by Protequus, a biomedical engineering firm located in my hometown of Austin, TX.
NIGHTWATCH hits close to home for me because it’s looking to solve a very common problem in horses, called colic. As you may already know as I’ve written about it a few times, my wife runs a horse business named “PLC Farm” where she buys young “sport” horses (hunter/jumper) overseas, works with professional trainers, competes with them, and sells them. She also rides in these competitions across the country with my teenage daughters. Because of the challenging competition schedule, cross-country travel, and the athletic demand, these majestic animals are at increased risk of distress, such as colic.
Colic is the leading natural cause of death in horses, but if detected early, colic can be easily managed and have little impact on a horse’s survival and quality of life. Unfortunately, most horses have to fend for themselves overnight when no one is around and when colic often occurs. Further, the traditional way of detecting colic is based on subjective behavioral observation. Many times, you literally need to “sense” colic in the horse to then to get them to a veterinarian to help save their life. I cannot personally “sense” colic, but I am told the horse acts differently, the way they move and look. Detecting colic is an art and not science which, from my point of view, is limiting. It is for these reasons that Protequus developed NIGHTWATCH, a wearable IoT-enabled device to be there when the horse care-keeper can’t be.
NIGHTWATCH is being positioned as the “world’s first smart halter” and is also offered as a safety collar, designed to alert caretakers at the first signs of distress in a horse (eg, colic, stall casting). This potentially game-changing, IoT-enabled device is designed to remotely analyze real-time data on a horse’s vital signs (heart and respiratory rates) and behaviors (ie, activity, motion, posture), work across cellular and Wi-Fi networks and continuously adapt to each horse over time to maximize precision and benefit. Protequus says all the data is available 24/7 on a smartphone and the web, making insight available anytime, any day, from anywhere for owners, caretakers, and veterinarians.
This may seem like a super-charged FitBit, but it’s a whole lot more. None of the 16 wearables can do what NIGHTWATCH does.
There’s a lot of technology with NIGHTWATCH, including new applications of emerging technologies. Besides, it’s the only wearable device for horses (to my knowledge) that integrates cellular technology, making this truly unique and valuable for horses, companion animals, and livestock whether they are at home, on the road, or away. All of this makes NIGHTWATCH exceptionally interesting to me.
Acquiring biometric data in a horse is highly complex because a horse is a lot different than a human. For example, green lasers won’t work to capture a horse’s heart rate because their hair is too thick, and you cannot simply stick a meter anywhere on a horse to capture their breathing. Instead, Protequus is using ultra-wideband technology in NIGHTWATCH for real-time biometric monitoring. The sensor is literally measuring the physical displacement (ie, expansion and contraction) of the microvasculature around a horse’s poll (ie, area behind their ears) for heart rate, while also measuring physical changes in the soft tissue of their upper respiratory region for respiratory rate. Movement is assessed via the MPU-9250 9-axis (accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass) MEMS MotionTracking device from InvenSense along with an altimeter, while the device and animal’s location is tracked via a GPS module. Yes, that’s a lot of sensors.
Real-time data is processed via a Freescale Semiconductor SoC with an ARM Holdings Cortex-A9 processor and sensor hub functions controlled by a Cortex-M0. Both the Cortex-M0 and -A9 share different levels of crunching the biometric, behavioral, and event data while a fuzzy logic inference system is used to assess relative risk of the horse at any point in time. Sensor data is sent back and forth from the halter or collar to the cloud and alert recipient via a 3G modem and Wi-Fi module.
All of this technology plus three lithium polymer batteries are sealed nicely into a flexible yet water- and dust-proof polyethylene enclosure and then embedded into the crown of a specially-designed breakaway halter or safety collar made of premium high-grade leather. Even with all this technology, it is barely perceptible from a standard, off-the-shelf halter.
No, this isn’t a FitBit for horses, it’s a sophisticated combination of sensors, processors, communications, and fuzzy logic.
Protequus, the company who created NIGHTWATCH, has an impressive background. Involved in the product design and development are biomedical engineers, electrical engineers, embedded software engineers and developers, product designers, and of course equine experts. This includes Founder and CEO Jeffrey R. Schab, a biomedical engineer and two-time World’s Champion equestrian.
This is not a huge company with the NIGHTWATCH team being comprised of less than 10 full-time resources and several external domain experts, which is incredible to me. It’s also a great example of how small companies are taking advantage of the ARM Holdings-based IoT ecosystem and creating some really great stuff. Freescale Semiconductor and InvenSense Inc. also deserve some credit, as well.
Protequus announced NIGHTWATCH in April this past year and on track to bring this to market in the United States and Canada in 2016 with pre-orders to start in Q1 2016. I am looking forward to trying out the final product through PLC Farm.
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