By Jason Estrada
A University of Iowa student’s gadget prevents mother pigs from crushing their piglets to death.
Matthew Rooda, the CEO and president of SwineTech, said he had the idea for the device while managing a sow farm. He said he often ran into problem of piglets dying because their mother crushed them, and he wanted to find a solution.
The process of the invention involves the technology of a FitBit and a shock collar. When the mother starts to crush her babies, the device, attached to the piglets, alerts her to stand up for about eight seconds through pulsating vibrations. If she doesn’t stand up, a small shock of a dog collar is initiated to make the sow stand up.
“We were able to identify that particular squeal and then alert the mom to stand up like a baby monitor,” he said.
Rooda noted it is safe for the sow; if he were to use the shock collar numerous times on himself for an hour, no harm would be done.
“We went and did research studies at a university to validate that this technology was safe for the moms and figured out how to do it the right way,” he said.
The invention went through many setbacks. The main problem was figuring out how to identify which piglet was squealing.
“The algorithms and acoustic engineering that went into it, the machine learning, truly identifying how to do those things and then incorporating it into a device that is robust and actually works [were some of the challenges],” he said.
However, Rooda said he feels confident the researchers have made a huge difference. He noted that 116 million piglets died last year. He hopes his invention will help not only in farming communities but in feeding the world.
In addition, he said, his invention will be a platform for a series of inventions he hopes to do in the future.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with some of the largest companies and identifying where they want to be and tying in all of the data we’re pulling to help them meet their goals,” he said. “So we truly see this as a way of not only changing farming in terms of saving pigs but also changing farming and the welfare and sustainability of how we do it.”
David Hensley, the executive director of the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, said he was thrilled with Rooda’s success.
“Matthew is a great role model for other aspiring UI student entrepreneurs,” he said. “His creativity, passion, tenacity, and drive for success demonstrates to other UI students that they, too, could pursue their dreams and launch a business while in school.”
Jeff Nock, an entrepreneur in residence at the Entrepreneurial Center, said he met Rooda two years ago and has had a great time helping him along the way to realizing his dream.
“He’s been a great motivation as he won $100,000 around the world in his business competitions and to other student founders who look up to him and want the similar success as him some day,” Nock said.