An autonomous tool helping to save baby pigs

An autonomous tool helping to save baby pigs
February 22, 2021

SwineTech CEO, Matthew Rooda, shares how his company is helping to save the world

Voice recognition is a very big part of life at SwineTech. Leveraging voice recognition, SwineTech listens to little baby piglets and identifies when one is in danger of being laid on and crushed by its mother, which is actually a very common problem to happen within the industry, with over 100 million piglets die every year from this problem. 

When a mother rolls over onto a piglet, the piglet will start to squeal and an arithmetic pattern with a high frequency, an equal pattern form wavelength and we are able to hear that and tell the mom to stand up and save that little piglet from dying. 

There are so many piglet squeals, which is what inspired SwineTech to use voice recognition. It allows us to distinguish what a squeal might mean in various situations, including the dangerous squeal when a piglet might be at risk of being killed. 

You’ll typically run everywhere to try to find the at-risk piglet and you only have about 20 to 30 seconds before that squeal will stop and that piglet will die. But if you can find it, you can save it up. People aren’t on the farm every single hour of every single day, so we found an autonomous tool to save these baby piglets. 

Calculating the loss

You could calculate the billions of pounds of pork that are lost by each piglet death. Let’s say one hundred and sixty million piglets die – when you multiply that by 218 pounds, which is the consumable portion of the pig, you’re talking about tens of billions of pounds of pounds of pork that will never be marketed. 

In looking at the global population, if we are able to save them all, it allows SwineTech to feed the world and that is really exciting. 

There is also a sustainable aspect to saving the baby pigs. The more pigs born per mother and marketed is a better utilization of water and food. Every piglet saved from that litter born continues to create a more sustainable industry. And right now, it’s just about as close as any of them to a carbon neutral industry, which is really exciting. 

Invention close to proximity 

Matthew was born into the swine industry.  He was born in North Carolina, over an eastern Carolina near Kinston. It’s one of the largest pork producing areas and not only the U.S., but in North America. Matthew moved to southern Iowa, which is the second largest pork producing state area. 

His father, my grandfather, and great grandfather all raised pigs. Each of them progressed to larger herd sizes. Matthew was told by his parents to try something different. 

Matthew was pursuing a degree to be an obstetrician in genetics and biotechnology. To strengthen his resume, Matthew was  told by the Medical Acceptance Committee to work on a pig farm, manage all the medications, the people, the C sections, the birthings. It was a way to diversify himself from other medical students and it was something Matthew was comfortable with.  

Matthew went forward to work with pigs and found problems with the process and was able to tie that to the cost associated with doing business. 

“Growing up, I was just the guy picking up the dead pig and putting it in a bucket. I didn’t understand the implication that it had to the overall business like I did when I got older and started managing a farrowing house,” said Rooda. 

Learning to be a problem finder and a problem solver

Rooda became a problem finder and solver when he assumed responsibility. It’s really hard to find a great idea off the spot, but the moment you assume responsibility in a job or another environment, you start hitting walls that keep you from being the very best you can be. Those walls are most likely not just inhibiting you from succeeding. They’re probably inhibiting others as well. That’s how we find ideas and solutions. “You have to assume the responsibility in those areas to care enough to find that problem,” said Rooda. 

Starting small 

To be a farmer in many ways means being a jack of all trades, including an inventor. If you don’t have a solution, most people don’t. You can’t just always run to the store. There might be a problem that needs to be solved right now. Some days you’re gonna be a welder, a carpenter, or lay concrete, that’s something that you had embody as part of your job. 

Matthew’s parents encouraged him to figure it out when facing challenges. He was encouraged to think creatively in different situations. It always allowed him to come up with some pretty neat stuff. 

Diversity of experiences makes all the difference 

Matthew’s farming background was rare among his other pre-medical student colleagues. His friends had it even harder than he did growing up. They would wake up at four o’clock every morning to walk and feed cattle. Other peers were getting up before the sun to milk the cows. This was before automation for milking was invented. 

Matthew had an advantage because he was able to administer antibiotics or medications or vitamins, do C sections, and birthings because of his experience on the farm. This was something that other medical students didn’t have that gave him another perspective. 

Help from teachers and mentors at an early age

Video games were huge in helping Matthew with his problem solving skills. Additionally, teachers pushed Matthew to do his best. They encouraged him to look at different strategies to get to a desired end result. 

Participating in sports with good coaches was also helpful. Going up against good teams forced Matthew and his team colleagues to identify other strategies for offense or defense. Rooda understands you can find problem solving skills in so many different areas. 

Talent in the workforce

As a business owner, Matthew is now hiring others to work for him. Identifying the right skills for potential employees has been a trial and error process for him. 

“I learn every single time and you learn by failing sometimes,” said Rooda. 

From the engineering standpoint, Rooda identifies what he calls a “killer mentality” – no matter what problem comes down the path, you learn how to solve a problem. That brings a level of comfort in one’s ability to solve problems. 

Individuals on Rooda’s team have fostered some of those inventive and problem solving mindsets. Especially during COVID, Matthew has found many online communities to help foster learning and problem solving opportunities. In fact, SwineTech just completed an improv activity with their team to foster collaboration in problem solving. 

New sets of problem-solving

“When we started inventing this technology, we really thought that the voice recognition element, if we could get that down, we had it and we were so wrong,” said Rooda.  “We definitely didn’t take the path of least resistance, but we did take a path of multiple inventions.”

First, SwineTech completed the algorithms to properly identify a piglet in distress. Then, using mesh networking and volume voting to triangulate the position of the right sound, of the right piglet. 

SwineTech looked at different types of conditioning to get the mother pig up. They looked at classic conditioning, incentivizing the mom with food and water. This didn’t work.

Then, they tried operant conditioning, using an impulse, like a dog collar. This just stressed the moms out. 

They almost gave up. However by looking at tens technology for chiropractic, nerve therapy muscles for people, they found a solution that allowed mothers to safely get up off of their piglets. 

Even after all of that, they still weren’t finished. They still needed to find a way to attach the device to the mother pig, which was extremely difficult. Rooda’s team eventually landed on an adhesive patch after trying over 60 different types of adhesives to get it to stay on a mother pig for more than five days. 

Overall, the process took a couple years of effort. The process was chaotic and fun. It required a lot of late nights, but Rooda chalks that up to being normal in the invention process. 

Rooda thinks the power of invention education is freedom. 

“It’s the power to be independent of those around you. It allows you to create a world that you want to live in without the restrictions of what everybody else wants, outside of the customer being the ultimate driver,” said Rooda. 

“If it’s an invention, it’s something that’s never been done before,” said Rooda. “And if you can express yourself in that way, it’s just super exciting to share that with the world and to solve others problems.”

This summary was produced as part of the Invention Education: Portraits, Strategies, Starting Points podcast series. 

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice and the Lemelson Foundation have partnered to bring you this series of critical conversations on the importance of invention education. 

Matthew Rooda Holding a baby pigMatthew Rooda, CEO OF SwineTech

Twitter: @Swinetechinc

Matthew Rooda graduated from the University of Iowa, with a degree in Enterprise Leadership and went through the pre-medicine track, studying Genetics and Biotechnology. In 2015, He co-founded SwineTech, Inc. to solve the global issue of labor inefficiencies and pig mortalities within the pork industry. Rooda led the SwineTech team through the Pearse Lyons Accelerator in Dublin, Ireland, raised more than $6 million in venture capital, has grown the team to 20+ employees, and managed business development efforts in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has won awards from Microsoft, MIT, Princeton, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, was named the American Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year, and was selected as part of the 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 class in the category Manufacturing and Industry.

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