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Mooobile Wi-Fi gives outback farmers a chance to connect - with cows

Published:01 April 2015

Professor Dave Swain shows off the Bovine Utilising Long-range Link (BULL) technology

Warning: This was released as an April Fools Day prank. But who knows one day this might be a reality.

World-first technology developed by CQUniversity researchers could see outback farmers access fast, wireless internet in their most remote paddocks – as long as they're within cooee of a cow.

The Bovine Utilising Long-range Link (BULL) technology sees new-micro Wi-Fi modems planted in special ear-tags, which can then be attached to handy heads of herd to create connective cattle.

The BULL tags emit a weak Wi-Fi signal – the closer you are to a ‘cloud’ of cattle, the stronger the Wi-Fi signal will be. Initial trials show a smartphone within a 150m radius of ten connected cattle can produce download speeds of 7Mbps.

 CQUniversity Researcher Prof Dave Swain said that BULL could potentially create the world’s biggest and most remote network of Wi-Fi hotspots – with Australia's national cattle herd at 29.3 million head, across 76,807 properties. 

“Whether it’s for stock management, or keeping in touch from one end of the station to the other, or even just updating Facebook, we’ve developed a ground-breaking new solution – it’s BULL,” Prof Swain said.

“The BULL makes perfect sense – we frequently hear that primary producers need better connectivity to run their business, but our researchers realised what they do have plenty of, is cows.” 

As well as providing an innovative solution to connectivity limitations in the bush, Prof Swain said bovine practicality was a key focus for the world-first development.

“Obviously cattle are outdoors animals, so the tags had to be as weather-proof as the cows themselves. And cows do have a tendency to lick something when they’re not sure what it is, so moisture was a big consideration,” Prof Swain said. 

“Battery life is still an issue with the early prototypes, with each device only lasting about 3 months. The technology will eventually improve but in the meantime we are installing charging docks at water troughs where farmers can literally plug their cattle in to recharge them as they take a drink.

“Another challenge has been keeping the Wi-Fi modem cool, so the project team have used an innovative 'open flow ear cooling' system that takes advantage of ear flapping motion of cattle to cool the 3G modem. Brahmans give the best results, as they flap their ears the most of any breed. 

“Producers are also price-sensitive, so if they do only pick a handful of cattle to tag with the BULL, they will have to keep track of which animals are hot spots – as cows do all look quite similar. To get around this we’ve actually started branding the Wi-Fi logo on the flanks of connected cattle.

“This technology really is designed with portable, hand-held devices in mind – it’s in the nature of cows to move, so farmers don’t want to be lugging a whole desktop around the paddock after them.”

Professor Swain said he hoped the technology would encourage producers to develop online profiles for their livestock as a new marketing tool.

“We’re used to the sight of cows in Rockhampton, but there are plenty of people around the world who would be fascinated by bovine life and where their produce comes from, so I think there’s a lot of Instagram potential!” 

Professor Swain said research trials are centred on the Wi-Fi blackspots around the Beef Capital. Further trials are set to get underway from today, April 1, and CQUniversity is looking to extend the trial interstate, and to other animals, by this time next year.
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