Ranches of the future will see cattle wear self-charging smart sensors

Together with 5G technology, this will help build smarter ranches in the future.
Ameya Paleja
Farmer works on a virtual computer screen against a field
Farmer works on a virtual computer screen against a field


Researchers at the Southwest Jiaotong University in China have designed a smart-watch-styled sensor for cattle that can be powered by their movements and monitor a host of information needed to maintain food safety and supply chain efficiency, a press release said.

The easy availability of low-cost sensors has resulted in an explosion of gadgets available for health monitoring at a personal level. Although most of these gadgets do not have regulatory approvals yet, the manufacturers are working to improve them constantly and have been found to be useful at critical junctures.

It is only a matter of time before these sensors were put to use in animal husbandry. However, using electrically chargeable devices is rather impractical on a large scale and that's where a self self-charging sensor comes in handy.

How does the sensor for cattle work?

Just like smartwatches are worn around wrists by humans, the sensors for the cattle would be tied around their ankles or even their necks. The charging takes place every time the animal moves around the ranch doing its regular activities.

 “There is a tremendous amount of kinetic energy that can be harvested in cattle’s daily movements, such as walking, running, and even neck movement,” said Yajia Pan, an energy researcher at Southwest Jiaotong University in the press release.

The unique feature of the sensor is the energy harvester that can use even the weakest of kinetic motions to charge up the lithium battery of the sensor. The team has achieved this by using a motion enhancement mechanism using magnets and a pendulum that amplifies the small movements the animal makes.

Interestingly, the mechanism for the device was tested in humans and the researchers found that even a light jog could power the sensor enough to carry out temperature measurements.

The smart ranch future

The researchers' vision for the device is to deploy it to monitor information such as oxygen concentration, air temperature, humidity, amount of exercise, reproductive cycles, milk production, diseases, and much more.

Ranches of the future will see cattle wear self-charging smart sensors
The smart ranch of the future

Together with the development of 5G technology, the device will help in developing a ranch-wide environmental and health monitoring system that can monitor cattle for their health, prevent diseases and improve the efficiency of cattle breeding and management, the press release added.

Implementing the technology in ranches can be part of a larger effort to improve the world's food systems and ensure supply chain efficiency since the entire industrial chain can be more intelligent and transparent. Additionally, the addition of these monitoring methods can be completed without significantly adding to the emissions of the industry, which are already high.

Furthermore, the technology can be adapted for use in sports monitoring, healthcare as well as the construction of human wireless sensor networks, the press release said. Kinetic energy is everywhere in the environment—leaves swaying in the wind, the movement of people and animals, the undulation of waves, the rotation of the earth—these phenomena all contain a lot of kinetic energy,” said Zutao Zhang another researcher at the university, “We shouldn’t let this energy go to waste.”

Pan and Zhang are also co-authors of the paper that was published today in the journal iScience.


Smart ranch relying on sensor systems to realize monitoring of animals and the environment has emerged with the promotion of the Internet of Things (IoT). This paper proposes a near-zero energy system (NZES) based on a kinetic energy harvester (KEH) for smart ranch. The KEH is based on motion enhancement mechanism (MEM) for kinetic energy recovery from animal movement to realize self-powered applications of smart ranch. The MEM realizes the input and enhancement of weak kinetic energy based on bistable inertial swing. The KEH is analyzed theoretically and experimentally based on cattle leg movement. Under weak excitation (low-frequency and amplitude swing), the maximum voltage growth rate of the KEH based on the MEM reaches 103.7% compared with the linear KEH. The results of application feasibility tests, dressing field experiments, and application outlook show that the KEH has the potential to realize self-powered applications in the NZES of smart ranch.

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