‘Define’ is a sensor which is worn on the horse’s head which tracks motion in order to identify key behaviours. Thus far over 25 behaviours have been identified.
Its primary purpose is to take the worry out of horse management and improve horse welfare by giving them freedom to express their natural behaviour. This has the potential to save owners undue expense.
Additional functionality will include gait tracking, energy monitoring and data on daily activity, which could be particularly useful for seeing trends in horses with specific health needs, or evaluating the effectiveness of supplements or other products. It isn’t intended to ever replace a vet but provides an early warning system by texting the owner in the event of irregular behaviour that indicates something could be wrong.
Sharon’s breakthrough came during an exercise physiology lecture which looks at how horses move. As part of this the class had been discussing gait analysis. She had the realisation that a behaviourist just watches the horse but that it would make sense to measure behaviour using a sensor.
Once the idea was in her head she couldn’t shake it, “It was the sort of idea that just gets under your skin”. Having discovered that there were no well tested solutions on the market she decided to develop her own. Her MSc dissertation validated the technology of Define in a range of horses, from Shires to Shetlands, to greater than 95% classification accuracy.
Main challenges so far:
Not having previous experience with electronics or code. Sharon is tackling this by using her strengths and supplementing them with new skills, recognising where she needs to take on outside help to progress. She is also currently learning python and testing ideas with an Arduino plus Farm491 has been helping Sharon tackle this challenge by finding a mentor with the relevant experience in electronics and software design to help her build the app.
On her startup journey she says; “I’m going to keep taking things one step at a time until I get there”.
On design thinking:
Sharon takes her experiences as a horse owner to make her product user and animal friendly. This translates into thoughtful touches such as a soft, curvy enclosure which protects the horse and the electronics inside and a novel mechanism that makes it easy for their owner to attach and detach it in a way that suits their management preferences.
The user is in charge of all their data and can personalise alerts to their horse’s needs. So, rather than just being told ‘your horse is lame’, the app provides a score for asymmetry and will let you know if this changes. Sharon says “I hate technology that nags me. I don’t want that for this product. I have always loved making things; finding problems and fixing them.”