Dunedin-based Iris Data Science is aiming to develop what it says will be the world’s first sheep facial recognition software, eliminating the need for electronic identification or ear tagging.
Iris Data Science says potential applications for the technology include tracking animal locations to prevent rustling, monitoring animal behaviour, estimating weight, diseases, welfare, or other characteristics, or estimating parentage without the need to observe lambing or do DNA parentage testing.
The company has received a $40,000 grant from Callaghan Innovation to help it prototype the technology this year.
It is also collecting data and developing similar facial recognition technology for cattle and goats, and says it expects this to be available shortly after the sheep prototype.
Iris Data Science co-founder Greg Peyroux said the project would capture facial images of sheep and feed these into a machine-learning model that would learn to identify sheep by finding recognisable features.
Company co-founder Benoit Auvray said the funding would help the company overcome the challenges of applying a deep neural network to detect sheep faces in an image complicated by changing head pose, background and lighting conditions.
"Sheep identification from images is a complex issue that has not yet been fully researched and is unlikely to be addressed overseas in the near future, but has major commercial implications for New Zealand’s agricultural industry."
"Deep learning methods have superseded computer vision techniques for human facial recognition and have shown promising results for animal identification.
Peyroux said the company had already collected thousands of images and hours of high-resolution video footage of sheep to train its machine learning model.
"As more farmers move towards management technologies such as digital scales and automatic drafting gates, a reliable low-cost method of identification is essential and we believe we have found a solution with this new cost-effective technology,” he said.
The project was launched at MobileTECH in Rotorua, an annual event showcasing digital technologies for the agricultural, horticultural and forestry sectors, and at TEXpo 2019, Techweek NZ’s technology showcase.