The Youngsters - Artificial Intelligence at the edge to support young animals for a sustainable smart farming

This project investigates how a combination of different sensor methods and artificial intelligence technologies, which can detect behavior (including interaction), position, activity, weight, temperature and heart rate on or in the environment of young piglets and calves, can provide insight. With the goal of gaining more insight into the welfare of young animals (newly born calves and piglets) and using that knowledge to further enhance animal welfare.

In november 2022 we spoke with prof. dr. Paul Havinga. Paul is Professor of Computer Science at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Twente and Director Science at TNO - ICT. He received his PhD from the University of Twente in 2000 for the thesis "Mobile Multimedia Systems." He is also a visiting professor of Smart IoT systems at Nanchang University in China. In May 2007, he received the ICT Innovation Award for successful knowledge transfer from university to industrial use. In June 2007, he received the "Van den Kroonenberg Prize" for being a successful innovative entrepreneur.

Smart Solutions for horti- and agriculture

With the "Smart Solutions for horti- and agriculture" program, NWO stimulates foundational and precompetitive research projects. This way NWO wants to strengthen the knowledge base and stimulate interdisciplinary research that leads to applicability of knowledge within and between the top sectors Agri&Food, Horticulture & Starting Materials, High Tech Systems and Materials and ICT. The Youngsters runs from January 2020 to the end of 2025.


Industry is closely involved in all our research, Paul said. "With our research we want to actually solve a problem in society or at a company." An important partner here is Nedap (livestock division), which the University of Twente has been working with for some time. Nedap creates hardware and software solutions that have real value; ‘Technology for Life’ TNO is involved in relation to data sharing in the chain.

In addition to the University of Twente, the University of Wageningen (WUR) joined somewhat later, bringing in their knowledge of animals in particular. WUR is also looking into the questions of how the technology can eventually be embedded in business operations and also what you can do for the animal itself.


The purpose of the research is to gain more insight into the physical world using smart ICT technologies and consists of three steps. Step 1 sensoring, through smart sensors the environment can be monitored, then the information from the sensors is combined (step 2 communication). And finally - but especially real time - data analytics takes place, step 3.

Different sensing methods

Sensors have been used for years in a variety of applications. By constantly innovating, however, sensors can be used better and for more purposes. Among other things, Youngsters uses millimeter waves. Millimeter waves - often referred to as mmWaves or high-band 5G - are frequencies from 24 GHz and beyond. As radio waves increase in frequency, each wave becomes smaller in length.

"We do this because in this case we need to measure at a distance and we want to measure physiological conditions. We have also used this technique previously in a study around dementia, Entwine.

"Radio signals are affected by living beings and we measure these changes in signals (disturbances) in this way. In addition, we are also testing with infrared."


The first days in the life of young animals are considered a critical period. Extra caregiver attention and alertness is required. Sensoring in very young animals is not possible, which is why remote measurement methods were chosen. Because these young animals often swarm together, individual measurement is difficult, especially with piglets. Measuring and gaining access to animals is always a challenge due to laws and regulations, but practical access to get to the animals properly is also often a challenge.

"We didn't think access to the animal would be so difficult. So we started research on animals that are easier to access such as cats and horses. We are doing other experiments with horses anyway so can gain knowledge there at the same time."

Another challenge is installing the equipment properly and making sure it stays working in a stable. "For that reason research is now also taking place with pigs at a petting zoo in Enschede, the space is bigger and we can access it easily."

Ideal outcome

Paul points out that two things stand out. "Firstly, making and evaluating the technology and being able to see what the effects are to improve the welfare of the animals. In addition, it would be a great result when the product is actually put into use by Nedap. Animal welfare is paramount at the Youngsters."

Afbeeldingen van onderzoeksteam - kat draagt bij aan project. Meetapparatuur in beeld.
Zwart paard wordt met meetapparatuur gescand
Foto: onderzoeksteam