The gentle heartbeat of an oyster far away in the Southern Ocean could help unlock the key to the global challenges of food safety and security.
Sense-T is a program based at the University of Tasmania. Here, a team of scientists, farmers and businesspeople are developing new sensing technology and business support tools that are set to change the way we grow food and derive value from nature's resources.
The aim, according to Sense-T Director Ros Harvey, is to help people do more with less.
“In the case of food production, that means more food to feed a growing global population, but with less environmental impact from things like irrigation and chemical use. It’s about making food production more efficient, competitive and sustainable.”
Sense-T is creating a shared rich-data resource that can benefit the whole community, collecting and aggregating vast amounts of historical and real-time data. It is connecting data from existing public and private sensors as well as developing affordable, easy-to-use sensing technology so people can invest in their own sensors.
It is even developing the world’s first oyster sensor, which can be attached directly to the animals so farmers can measure their heartbeat, feeding patterns and general health. Other bio-sensors are collecting data about the health and behaviour of cows and salmon.
Sense-T then brings together industries to identify challenges, scientists to analyse the relevant data and digital services to create the user-friendly tools and apps industries need.
For farmers, that means rich data sets at the tips of their fingers, not just from their own sensors but from those of other bodies – the Department of Meteorology, for example – as well as anonymised data from other farms, presented in simple-to-use smart phone apps and online tools.
Scientists are analysing the data to come up with models and algorithms that enable us to predict variables such as the rate of pasture growth, the risk of disease and when specific animals will be on heat. These algorithms can be fed into the smart phone apps, enabling farmers to get timely, relevant alerts and calculations.
Ultimately, Sense-T aims to generate apps that help farmers optimise all aspects of their business, including production, animal health, environmental sustainability, freight, logistics and marketing.
Sense-T has research projects underway in the beef, dairy, aquaculture (oyster) and viticultural sectors, as well as projects looking at managing water resources and food supply chains. The program plans to expand into other industries, such as freight and logistics, tourism, e-health and financial markets.
Sense-T is a partnership program between the University of Tasmania, CSIRO, the Tasmanian Government and IBM. It is also funded by the Australian Government.