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The Tech Equestrian

Welcome to the new normal. Technology is everywhere and effects everyone and everything.  To keep up with the changes and information that impacts the equestrian world, I hope you will enjoy the stories, profiles and insights that this blog will feature. In addition, stay connected on social by joining my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages!

TTE Advisory Board: Robots in the Horse World

TTE Advisory Board: Robots in the Horse World

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This month I challenged The Tech Equestrian Advisory board to think outside of the box (or stall!) and discuss their views on what impact robots would have if they were introduced to the horse world. This is a very interesting concept because horses are very intelligent and high touch creatures and they may not like a motorized robot to be near them at all – but there could be other uses, let’s see how the experts responded…and you’ll notice common responses/themes throughout.
I posed two questions (the second one was optional)

Questions:
1) Do you foresee robots impacting the equine world in the future? 

2) Is there something else that seems futuristic now, but may become part of the horse world in the future?


1) In the future, definitely yes, but in the near future (5 years), I don’t think there will be. Technologic development within the equine industry has been slow, just in the last two years technology has begun to be used to improve training and processes such as transportation, barn management, and others. I see room for technology improvement in our industry, but more focused on health, welfare and support for owners.

2) I think AI may be the next big thing! It’s happening now and it can be used in many ways to improve our horses health and welfare. I also think that the way we train our horses could be improved with technology, there are many things we are not measuring just because we don’t have the tools or we don’t know what to do with those numbers, but we need to start thinking in our horses as top athletes and train them like that.

- Juan, Equo


1) There are two types of robots – a dumb one, that services a single purpose – think a hot walker for horses. And then there is a smart robot. Those are on the rise and recently I met with a local robotics startup (dCentralized Systems) where they are targeting small autonomous vehicles such as tractors for farmers/ranchers that have 100 acres or less. These types of units can be used for all kinds of labor type applications. One of my favorite discussions and needs is to have a unit that can go “pick the pastures” or “go spread the compost in the fields.”

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Think about the use case for a smart robot from cleaning stalls and throwing the manure into a container then disposing of it, saving you time and effort. Or how about sending the robot out to mow the pasture? Wouldn’t it be great for one of these units to walk our horses or even take them out or get them from their pastures? With the cost of labor rising, it makes it expensive in managing our equestrian lifestyles. Utilizing these autonomous helpers might help manage our budgets and free us up to spend more time in the saddle. 

- Patrick, Equestrian App


1) Robots are getting more and more sophisticated everyday. And I expect to see a significant impact from robots in agriculture for planting, growing, and harvesting crops in the near-term. For the equine world, it is not so clear. Most owners don't have hundreds of horses, so their operations don't benefit from automation in the same way. However if you expand your definition of a robot it could mean automation for watering or a feed dispenser ... that has cameras to monitor the horses, motors to dispense the food and water, notifies owners when supplies are low ... Or could you envision an iRobot Roomba type stall cleaner robot that maneuvers around hay and avoids hooves?

At Magic AI, I am building the future. Our monitoring solution, that uses computer vision and machine learning, could eventually impact the equine world in many ways. We can tell you how often they train, and when they are fed. We can integrate with other data sources like vet records or show results. Eventually we will have data on horses from across the world. From all that data, we could make suggestions about improving your barn operations to reduce time and expenses ... or suggestions for alternate trainingschedules to produce higher jumpers. The future has many possibilities.

- Alexa, StableGuard


1) I do not think that robots will be able to effectively replace any "hands on" work involved with horses. There is too much equine interaction that depends on "feel" and "human experience" that I don't think you can program into a machine. That said, I can imagine some ways that robotics could help manage the barn itself.  Here are some ideas (listen up, robot makers!!)" I like to imagine something like a "Roomba" to "sweep" the barn floor, or clean the stalls, but it would need to be quiet and not scare the horses. This stall cleaning machine would have to be intelligent - and report back or flag any alarming behavior, but if not, than I would choose to hold the pitchfork myself or put it in the hands of a human who understands the (sometimes life or death) importance of the stall contents.  

In addition, a ring Roomba type machine might also be useful to drag the ring - sensors could dictate where it goes and what it shouldn't touch, and it'd be less time consuming to maintain good footing. Along the same lines, let's get a "self driving car" to mow your fields! There are many ways opportunities to leverage a robot in the horse world.

Kate, StableSecretary


1) I'm not sure if you would classify many of things we already do as far as mechanical aspects of exercising horses "robots," but I do believe that will become more prevalent. I for one would love to have a machine turn my horses out for me. Please someone come up with a walker/track type system for that!

2) I wouldn't rule bitcoin/block chain technology out of horse sale transactions. There are a lot of advocates that want to see more transparency with sales and commissions and bitcoin could be a way to do that. Block chain technology could be incorporated into sales, breeding, veterinary procedures, etc to create transparency and trust in the industry. 

- Alison, Sales Paddock


1) Ultimately, the adoption of robotic processes will occur wherever an economic case exists. And we shouldn’t limit our thinking to ‘moving’ robots, a good example of significant process automation has been the computer programming that helps us all shop online, without a single human helping us choose or pay.

Process automation occurs first when a repetitive activity can be achieved by a simple (cheap) robot. Robotic feeders for cows are a thing because farms have hundreds or thousands of cows. Feeding even dozens of horses doesn’t justify (yet) the cost of an expensive robot because the human doing it does so quite quickly and inexpensively.

So, because a moving robot, capable of doing the many different and complex tasks around horse care, is currently more expensive than a human, this isn’t the first area we will see robots. Surprisingly, it is most likely to be where the human costs are high. A good example might be some in-person veterinary examinations that will be replaced by horse-worn sensors that continually monitor basic health metrics such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and movement and analyze this data to identify issues. Already in research for humans is a ‘breathalyser’ that samples breath and can diagnose cancer and other diseases. Due to the length of clinical trials for human medicine, we might even see this available for horses before it is used for us…

Richard, Huufe


1) There is no aspect of our lives that is not being affected and influenced by technology.

Besides some skepticism to introduce cutting-edge technology in such a traditional field like the equestrian, we can see already nowadays some robots that are capable of safely lifting a horse by controlling weight distribution, which reduces the chance of life threatening injuries. Robots are also currently helping with equine medicine and CT scans by maneuvering around the horse, which eventually does not require any sedative. I foresee also the application of robots, which will emulate the jockey in order to understand better how to optimize posture or movements to improve competition.

Nick, Ekinox Tech


1) Technological innovation has often been viewed as a double-edge sword. While some argue that technology creates jobs, others argue that technology destroys jobs and is eroding the human-human bond. For instance take the automobile which destroyed the US horse population with numbers plummeting by nearly 90% from 1920 to 1960.  

Experts now predict that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will bring an unprecedented level of automation with projections of nearly 10% of jobs could become automated by 2050. Regardless of the percentage, the message is clear that advances in technology are coming and according to Moore’s Law, which states computer processing power doubles every 18 months, technological innovation will define tomorrow’s norm.

When we think about the equine industry, it’s difficult to imagine how robots may play a role in the future. However, we have already started to see the introduction of robots for equine imaging. In 2016, Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center became the first veterinary teaching hospital in the world to use a robotic-controlled imaging system, called EQUIMAGINE™. EQUIMAGINE is a high-definition CT imaging platform that allows radiologists to image an entire horse at one time. That’s more than cool, that’s practical with the biggest advantage being the horse is awake (no anesthesia) and standing (~30 seconds). However, due to the high cost of these robots, wide adoption of this technology is limited today, especially outside of the clinical setting.

Robots provide state-of-the-art imaging at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

Robots provide state-of-the-art imaging at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

Before that in 2001 the government of Qatar began to look into the use of robotic jockeys for camel racing, and in the 6 years that followed mandated that all camel racing be directed by robotic jockeys. Fast forward to a decade later, and we now see prototype robot jockeys with artificial intelligence (“robojockeys”) navigating horses around courses and capable of reaching speeds of 30 mph on the track. Unlike human jockeys, robojockeys do not need to learn to ride. Rather, sensors on the saddle and robot continuously exchange information so the robojockey can maintain balance as on-board intelligence makes decisions to direct the horse’s direction and speed.

While robojockeys and robotic imaging platforms may sound like science fiction to some, technologic innovation, including robots, is coming to the equine industry and I predict the confluence of AI and biosensors in the new connected world (i.e., the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem) will continue to transform how we identify distress, prevent injury, and care for these animals we love. 

- Jeffrey, NightWatch


1) I think there are two ways robots could impact the equine world in the future. First, robot jockeys! They are already used in camel racing in the Middle East and that technology could be leveraged for horse racing in the US. Secondly, I think there is an opportunity for robots to play a role in equine surgery medical care

Believe it or not, there are robots riding these camels.

Believe it or not, there are robots riding these camels.

2) While chipping horses for identity is commonplace now, I think chipping horses to capture around-the-clock biometric data will become part of the horse world in the future…and maybe robots will be the ones chipping them!

- Kate, Hylofit


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