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  • Writer's pictureDanielle van Hout

Eye on AI - December 2nd, 2022

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week, we’ll be discussing how smartwatch-wearing cows may be the future of farming before breaking down the approaches of leading retailers and packaging companies looking to innovate toward a plastic-free future.


Cows Wearing Smartwatches? Not As Crazy As It Sounds.

We’re all familiar with smartwatches, those wearable health devices that monitor things like calories, heart rate, steps, blood oxygen levels, etc. What we’re not familiar with is seeing them on livestock. According to the article “Smartwatch-Wearing Cows And Smart Farms Are The Future, Say Scientists,” a team of Chinese scientists has proposed fitting cows with kinetically-powered smartwatches to improve health monitoring.

“On a ranch, monitoring environmental and health information of cattle can help prevent diseases and improve the efficiency of pasture breeding and management,” said Zutao Zhang, study co-author and an energy researcher at Southwest Jiaotong University in China. “This information can include oxygen concentration, air temperature and humidity, amount of exercise, reproductive cycles, disease, and milk production.”

The smartwatches themselves, fitted to the cow’s legs, would be powered by kinetic energy, each step inducing a pendulum-like device, encouraged by a magnet, to begin moving back and forth to generate small amounts of energy, which is then stored inside a lithium battery within the sensor. The amount of energy generated would be negligible, though enough to power each smart device 24/7. Furthermore, there would be potential to connect the data collected within each farm to a 5G network to give researchers a holistic view of global livestock health.

“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,” continued Zhang. “We shouldn’t let this energy go to waste. With the development of 5G technology and the Internet of Things, the operation of the entire industrial chain of the food system is more intelligent and transparent.”

Cow-wearing smartwatches aren’t the only unusual livestock idea of late. Scientists out of Turkey and Russia have already begun fitting cows with VR headsets to show them nothing but plush green fields all day within their stalls. In theory, the VR headsets will make the cows happier, thus better able to produce high-quality milk. VRs and cows sound a bit too dystopian for my liking. What is clear though is that the cattle industry is rapidly changing with the advancement of AI-driven tech.

Unilever, Huhtamaki, And Bluepha Adopt Similar Paths to Plastic-Free Future

Another possible future, one we very much hope to see, is one with plastic-free packaging. In the article “Unilever, Huhtamaki, and Bluepha share paths to a plastic-free future,” a conversation between Unilever, Finnish consumer packaging company Huhtamaki, and biomaterial company Bluepha at the BEYOND Expo 2022 sustainability conference was recorded, with each participant discussing their approaches to minimizing plastic use in the future.

“Huhtamaki’s site in Alf, Germany is switching its focus from plastics to smooth molded fiber (SMF) products,” said Thong Yinsheng, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, Fiber Foodservice, Huhtamaki. “That’s where we are able to have a significant impact. It’s the first such large-scale production capability in Europe.”

While plastic alternatives are on the rise, Unilever’s focus is on the reuse of old plastics, with a target to reduce original plastic by 50% by 2025 and make 100% of their plastic packaging recyclable and reusable. Bluepha, on the other hand, is a 100% bio-based and marine-degradable biopolymer, meaning that its packaging would help the environments it’s left in.

“... we use sustainable biomass at the feedstock to produce our Bluepha product,” said Bai Yuanbin, co-founder and VP Marketing, Bluepha. “... Even [for] carbon dioxide, we have a unique technology named a biohybrid. That means we can use carbon dioxide and traditional biomass as feedstock… [the biomass has] remarkable degradability in various natural environments and artificial environments, including marine freshwater, soil, industrial compost, at-home compost landfill, anaerobic digestion, and different kinds of environments.”

With humanity producing twice as much plastic as it did two decades ago, and only about 9% of it being successfully recycled, sustainable packaging replacements are essential to reduce global waste. A combination of plastic reuse and sustainable replacement packaging will be needed to reduce plastic pollutants. Let’s hope package-dependent brands continue to innovate toward a more sustainable future.

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