Iowa Patent of the Month – May 2023

SwineTech, Inc. is revolutionizing animal farrowing operations with its innovative warning system. 

The problem of mother pigs crushing their newborns has been a long-standing issue in the industry, resulting in significant losses for pork producers. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 50% of postnatal death in piglets is caused by their mothers rolling onto and crushing them when kept loose in a farrowing pen. SwineTech’s system employs enhanced sensors to detect possible danger to piglets and provide a prompt warning to prevent accidents.

SwineTech was founded by Matthew Rooda, Abraham Espinoza, and John Rourke, with the mission to create solutions that empower farmers to provide every food production animal with high quality individualized care. Rooda grew up as a 4th generation pork producer before teaming up with Espinoza to pitch their idea for a voice recognition technology that could prevent unnecessary piglet death in farrows. They quickly gained traction and received a $3,000 grant from the John Pappajohn Founders Club Fair and another $1,500 from the John and Elsie Mae Ferentz Undergraduate Research Fund to help support the idea.

After entering into the Iowa Startup Accelerator, they partnered with Rourke, an engineer. This accelerator supported their early endeavors, leading to a functional prototype. The company has since amassed over $300,000 in grants for continued R&D, allowing them to continue on their journey. This pathway, and the commitment to innovation has now resulted in a patent for their PigFlow technology.

Unlike previous solutions that relied on acoustical signals, SwineTech’s system utilizes vibratory detectors and an artificial intelligence module to identify possible action events and determine the most likely scenario. This method eliminates the need for a pre-recorded library of action events and addresses the issue of piglets producing different sounds as they age and across different breeds. The system can also use visual signals captured by a camera, providing additional options for detecting potential danger.

One notable feature of SwineTech’s system is its false positive sensor, which can be triggered in specific circumstances to prevent unnecessary warnings. For example, if the mother pig is not moving for a predetermined period before the likely action event, the system will recognize that the situation is not a genuine threat and will not issue a warning. Similarly, the system can use temperature readings from a thermometer or relative positioning of the mother and piglets captured by a camera to avoid false alarms.

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