€2m investment into different type of AI at Limerick's Lero

Donal O'Regan

Reporter:

Donal O'Regan

Prof. Edmond Harty, CEO Dairymaster, Prof. Brian Fitzgerald, Director LERO; Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Bill Callanan Department of Agriculture

Prof. Edmond Harty, CEO Dairymaster, Prof. Brian Fitzgerald, Director LERO; Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Bill Callanan Department of Agriculture

AI to most farmers means artificial insemination but that is about to change.

Farmers could soon be able to avail of artificial intelligence to assist in managing their farm as a result of a new €2m research and development partnership announced. The purpose is to utilise the latest technology to boost farm productivity, milk quality and animal health.

It involves Dairymaster, IT Tralee and Lero, the University of Limerick headquartered Irish Software SFI Research Centre. The programme is backed by Science Foundation Ireland.

A team of researchers will be hired, including PhD students and post-doctoral scientists and engineers, to work with Lero and Dairymaster R&D teams. The researchers will have a range of skills from embedded electronics and sensor technology to software development and data analytics.

The project will offer researchers a unique opportunity to conduct cutting edge research while being embedded as part of an award winning R&D team.

“Dairymaster is committed to providing the best possible technologies to our customers and this is the key reason why we are investing in this area,” said Professor Edmond Harty, CEO of Dairymaster.

As part of the R&D programme, Lero and Dairymaster will look to develop autonomous systems to ease the workload on the dairy farm.

“The availability of skilled labour has been identified as one of the key challenges to the dairy industry,” commented Dr Joseph Walsh, head of the school of STEM and Lero researcher at IT Tralee.

“Automating labour intensive processes will not only be hugely beneficial to the farmer but will also enhance animal health and milk quality by ensuring tasks are completed to consistently high levels.”

The R&D programme also includes the development of Internet of Things technology to boost milk quality and animal health. This will involve the application of advanced data analytics to boost dairy farm productivity combining existing Dairymaster equipment such as MooMonitor+ health and fertility monitoring system with data from new sensors and monitoring technology. This will utilise data analytics and machine learning to automatically generate predictors and classifiers for dairy cow health and productivity.

The goal will be to help automate the management of the farm itself, providing the farmer with not just a set of metrics, but with tangible advice and recommendations on the key decisions needed to boost productivity.

“We see this whole area of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems as being key to the future of dairy farm profitability and sustainability and we are delighted to be involved in the largest indigenous project in Lero,” explained Dr John Daly, research and innovation manager, Dairymaster.

Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland welcomes this major R&D programme, which builds on Ireland’s international reputation for research excellence with impact.

"SFI Research Centres such as Lero are making important scientific advances, enhancing enterprise and industry, supporting regional development and developing critical skills in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

“We are delighted to partner with Dairymaster - an innovative, global, indigenous company - to fund this exciting research programme which will hopefully lead to innovative new products and solutions for dairy farmers in Ireland and around the world.”

Dairymaster, which employs 350 people, operates from Causeway as well as having operations in the UK and USA. Dairymaster has been identified as one of the key players in Ireland’s IoT ecosystem and has won numerous innovation awards for the new developments it has introduced to the dairy industry.

Dairymaster has a strong history of collaborative research with partners such as Teagasc, UCD, IT Tralee and now Lero and the University of Limerick.

“This exciting programme is further evidence of Dairymaster’s commitment to innovation over five decades which has helped to make it a global leader in dairy equipment manufacturing,” added Professor Conor Ryan, Lero researcher at UL. 

“Advanced R&D programmes such as this can help Ireland become an international centre of excellence in the use of robotics, Internet of Things and data analytics on the farm.”