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Brainiac

Innovation of the week: SwineTech

head of spotted pig, sketch vector graphics black and white pattern on a background of pink circle

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What is it? A wearable device that stops sows from accidentally crushing their piglets

Innovator: SwineTech

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What were they thinking? University of Iowa student Matthew Rooda, working on a large pig farm in Waterloo, Iowa, in the summer of 2014, was distressed to find that a sow had sat on — and crushed — eight of her piglets, sullying what had promised to be a productive quarter. Rooda spent the next week thinking about how to dissuade sows from smooshing their offspring, and soon, SwineTech was born. The gist: When microphones pick up the sound of piglets squealing in distress, a patch on the sow vibrates to get her on her feet and off her young.

How did they do? Rooda says testing in Iowa showed the system works 74 percent of the time, saving the farmers a lot of bacon. The wearable device can also track the health of the sows — a Fitbit for pigs, he calls it. SwineTech hopes to sell the data to feed companies and other agricultural behemoths. The company recently won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT prize for student innovation and is planning a soft launch at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines in June.

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