It's not easy for farmers to monitor the health of large herds of animals. From a distance, cows and sheep won't necessarily show signs of being stressed, feverish, or pregnant. But if you can make their internal chemistry more visible—as a new "smart tattoo" aims to do—tracking livestock health may become simpler.
The tattoo concept is being developed by Michael Manion at the Keon Research lab in Seattle. The idea is a patch that sticks to the skin and changes color in the presence of certain chemicals, like the cortisol hormone (indicating stress) or progesterone (indicating an animal could be pregnant).
Manion is part of a 10,000-strong network of scientists and innovators working for Xinova, the new name for the company previously called the Invention Development Fund (IDF was spun out of Intellectual Ventures, co-founded by ex-Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold). Xinova's client is Meat And Livestock Australia, a trade association.
Xinova proposes innovation areas, calling on inventors to submit concepts for approval. It then funds research with its clients and agrees a profit-sharing contract. Keon Research has submitted 200 ideas so far, 40 to 50 of which have been accepted.
When fully developed, the patch is likely to have panels for different health markers, including stress and heat levels. On the back are micro-needles that dig into the skin, deliver indicative inks and dissolve in place. Manion hopes to start testing with animals next year and to begin commercialization in 2018.