The Irish Field: The Evolution of Horse Tech (8 July)

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EIGHT out of 10 people now have access to the world’s computer power in their pocket (your Smartphone). However, most of us are not using it to its full potential – when we discover the power at our fingertips, what will we use it for and how will we use it to improve the results we get with our horses?

There are three key areas that are currently driving the development of horse technology: the smartphone, the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning.

The Smartphone

The smartphone has already made the impossible possible: Vets can now videoing therapies and procedures to share with their clients, trainers are able to record Electrocardiography tests (ECGs) from their horses and share them with vets on the other side of the world and breeders are able to view their horse’s vital signs with a single swipe.

With all the power of a high-performance desktop computer, the latest smartphones are packed full of sensors that can accurately detect motion, location, light levels, heart rate, fingerprints and include multiple cameras and rows of microphones. Your smartphone can detect what is happening around it, and can understand what it is seeing, hearing and experiencing, with a permanent (in most areas) connection to the internet. It can then share this information with other phones, people and/or computers.

The smartphone has become the platform of choice for developing all kinds of applications to share and control data. A mobile phone with a few sensor accessories just won the the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize competition — which aims to create a portable medical device akin to the fictional tricorder of Star Trek fame.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the networking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), buildings, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data. The Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting all kinds of sensors to the internet so we can monitor and control them but also so they can monitor and control themselves and each other.

For example, the Smart Lightbulb – the lightbulb connects, via the Internet, to your mobile phone. You can turn the light on or off, change it’s colour or create a schedule for it to go on and off at set times from your phone.

This year the studio atmosphere of The Voice UK was brought directly into homes, enhancing the viewing experience by creating a dynamic light show in user’s living rooms. Connected lighting from Philips Hue allows users to control the light using a phone or tablet. During the blind auditions, viewers could experience what it’s like to be a superstar coach – when an act performed on screen, viewers simply pressed the red button in the app, in order to turn their room red for the acts they would spin their chair for.

And that is just light bulbs.

As sensors for light, temperature, humidity and motion become cheaper and smaller, they are being added to a wide variety of products to enable this kind of interaction. From the smart oven that looks at what you put in and automatically cooks it correctly, to a hairbrush telling you how to brush your hair! And that was just what was on the market last year, what will the future of IoT bring?

What will we be able to do when sensors can be worn by our horses and other sensors can non-invasively monitor them? We could see the small differences in temperature all over the horse with an infrared camera and identify early signs of injury or illness, monitor the horse’s movement, sleep and gait 24/7 for signs of ill health, fitness or behavioural change. Have a saddle monitor how well it fits the horse as the horse changes shape. Maybe the smart saddle of the future will be able to auto adjust to fit each horse and rider.

Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Machine learning allows computers to find hidden insights without being explicitly programmed where to look. Essentially very large quantities of data are analysed and the computer finds patterns that can be used to more accurately predict individual actions. Credit Card companies use big data, the set of all credit card transactions, to detect out of character payments. You’re phone’s sat nav is the same, large amounts of data come from all the GPS and time data that other people shared on the journeys and the traffic they encountered.

Deep Learning is a form of artificial intelligence where computers can learn how to solve problems in a similar way to our brain making sense of the light coming into our eyes. Turning two-dimensional light signals into three-dimensional moving objects is a highly complex task that requires a sizeable amount of our brain power. In the last two years, this new approach has led to a leap forward in the ability of computers to identify patterns in data.

The combination of Big Data and Deep Learning gives computers the potential to become an expert in areas previously the territory of trained and experienced people.

Computers can be “trained” to understand what they see using a process called Supervised Learning. For example, suppose you want to train a computer to recognise lameness using a video from your phone. First, the computer is shown images of sound horses and then images of lame horses and told which is which. Next, the computer is shown more images of sound and lame horses and a human supervisor confirms it the computer correctly identifies them or not. Once the accuracy rate reaches acceptable levels, you have a trained model ready to be used by non-experts.

THE FUTURE

Think of all the things you can do with your phone. Apart from actually making phone calls, none of them were predicted by the mobile companies. Twenty years ago the inventor of the camera phone had to go to Japan to find a manufacturer, everyone asked him “Why would you want a camera on your mobile?” because they were limited by their imaginations. We are only at the very start of seeing how we can use new technology in equestrian activities. For some ideas on what these might be in the coming years see Horse Tech Innovation Awards for the Future.

Sometimes our imaginations are holding us back. The next generation have an advantage. They never knew a world that wasn’t connected and they think nothing of pressing the screen of their mobile and ordering a take out or an Uber (not in Ireland yet!) ride to where they want to go. Why not think of a problem you see in the horse world, match it with the right technology and you might end up a millionaire!

Make sure you don’t miss a moment of the inaugural HorseTech Conference by registering here for the free livestream on the 18th October 2017.

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