Smart-phone based carcase grading camera shows big potential
Jon Condon, BEEF Central (Australia)
June 30, 2020
RAPID advances in smart-phone camera technology is one of the drivers behind the development of a unique objective carcase measurement tool that has been pioneered by a Central Queensland cattleman.
The feature that sets the new MasterBeef prototype apart from other objective carcase measurement technologies is that it does not rely on specialised or custom-built cameras, mounts and lighting systems, but uses an ‘everyday’ smartphone like that found in anybody’s back-pocket to accurately capture carcase images.
The key feature that defines the technology is the use of sophisticated algorithms, loaded onto the phone using an ‘app’, that allow images to be processed into reliable, useful information. Easy transfer and integration of collected data across platforms is another feature.
Developer, Central Queensland Wagyu cattle breeder and mechanical engineer, Darren Hamblin was searching for a method to accurately, reliably and conveniently record carcase data to drive selection in breeding programs in his own herd, including his pioneering work in developing Poll Wagyu.
Mr Hamblin, described by some as a ‘data evangelist’ in his Wagyu performance recording and breeding endeavours, already has about 9000 carcases assessed using the system.
“Good, accurate data equates to sound and informed business decisions. From producers to feedlot operators, abattoirs, meat sales and final customer feedback, everyone has a pivotal data role to play in the livestock supply chain,” he said.
Working in collaboration with Mackay software developer and information technology company iScape, which has a strong background in the agtech and mining sectors, and Gympie app developer Peter Hobbs, Mr Hamblin’s livestock industry expertise and iScape’s cloud-based software capabilities has resulted in the development of the MasterBeef platform.
Mr Hamblin said the MasterBeef project had been a ‘massive’ time and financial commitment to get to its current state. The project has been at least five years in development, and has been used in an operational sense within Mr Hamblin’s own business since 2018.
“The original version of the technology was pretty crude, but it is now refined and getting into some sophisticated technology, including AI facial recognition technology,” he said.
In addition to the camera technology itself, the MasterBeef project includes data interfaces, all integrated for ease of use and management.
Rapid developments in phone camera technology had prompted the focus on using simple phone cameras to capture carcase images.
“When we first started, some of the other camera grading technologies about were using 12 megapixel cameras, which were considered advanced at the time. But the latest version of the Samsung phone we prefer to use to capture our images now has a 64 mega pixel camera.
“Not only can it take the images in high resolution now, but you have it in your pocket, and it has a good enough processor to process the image, and talk back to databases through APIs. Everything is there, together, so why go out and build a high-performance camera, when somebody else (smartphone manufacturers) have already done it?”
The MasterBeef technology is now well-advanced, and because of its portability and cheap access cost, is being used in a ‘check measure’ role in the Beef Australia 2021 National Beef Carcase Competition, which got underway last month.
Previously a single AusMeat grader travelled to all 15 participating abattoirs across Australia to assess competition entries several times over a nine-month period. But COVID travel restrictions this year have made that impossible. Instead, local Ausmeat plant graders will carry out the grading this year, but will use images captured by four MasterBeef-equipped smartphones to provide comparative images for monitoring purposes.
COVID-19 has also delayed any move to present the technology before the AusMeat Language and Standards committee for formal commercial grading approval, but that process will get underway as soon as circumstances allow.
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