Campus News

Students spur animal health innovation at hackathon

Members of the grand prize-winning team, PetSense, developed an Alexa-compatible intelligent feeding and weight monitoring system for cats and dogs (Credit: Jonathon Gurr).

Hackathon winners develop innovative solutions for feeding pets, disease detection for backyard chickens and for supporting surgery and care of pets

At the first-ever animal health-focused hackathon conducted in Georgia this past weekend, nearly 100 students applied inspiration and expertise spanning multiple disciplines to develop a number of potential solutions for the care and welfare of pets and livestock.

Ideas ranging from a fitness tracker for owners and their pets to a thermo-detection drone for early identification of sick livestock were developed into four-minute pitches, many of which even featured prototypes developed over the course of the weekend. The grand prize-winning team, PetSense, developed an Alexa-compatible intelligent feeding and weight monitoring system for cats and dogs.

Three other teams were recognized for their projects in three categories: Animal Human Bond; Disease Diagnostics, Preventive Measures and Tracking; and Sustainable Agriculture. The AutoMat team was recognized in the category of Animal Human Bond for their non-slip, self-disinfecting, reusable mat that provides a more comfortable examining table surface for pets.

The Third Arm team was recognized in the category of Disease Diagnostics, Preventive Measures and Tracking for their innovation of a surgical tool to enable precise placement of screws during surgery. In the Sustainable Agriculture category, the Chirp Alert team was recognized for its work on a mobile app-based screening test for five major poultry pathogens commonly seen in backyard chicken flocks.

“Judging these entries was difficult, though very rewarding, because all of the proposed ideas and presentations were highly original and well-conceived,” said Harry Dickerson, associate dean for research and graduate affairs at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and one of the hackathon judges. “The enthusiasm and creativity of the students was exceptional.”

The University of Georgia and Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health co-hosted this first-ever Georgia Animal Health Hackathon on the UGA campus in Athens to explore new ideas and technologies for improving the care of pets and livestock.

Students from varied disciplines, degrees, majors and colleges from UGA and other area universities joined scientists and business leaders from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, and members of the Georgia startup community at this weekend-long event, to brainstorm and explore advances that have the potential to improve the human-animal bond, lead to more sustainable agricultural practices and improve both human and animal health.

“The problem-solving skills and the diversity of ideas displayed by all of the teams was remarkable,” said Monica Dias Figueiredo, director of external innovation and lead finding within Boehringer Ingelheim’s Animal Health Research and Development organization and co-lead of the hackathon organizing committee. “These kinds of events provide a wonderful opportunity to break down barriers in the thought process and tap multi-disciplinary expertise in developing potential new solutions.”

The hackathon began on Friday afternoon with presentations from innovators and leaders, to provide a multifaceted view of emerging trends and the future of animal health and health care services as well as exposure to the realities of early-stage entrepreneurship.

The event continued through the weekend with 13 teams comprised of veterinary students, business students, engineers, designers and more coming together to share ideas and create novel solutions in animal health. Nearly 20 mentors from industry, academia and clinical practice provided feedback and guidance to the teams, culminating in a project showcase on Sunday, April 8, and final pitches to an audience of peers, industry representatives and participants.

“This weekend I participated in my first ever hackathon,” said Lydia Anderson, doctoral student at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the ChirpAlert team. “After two days of hard work, my team was able to translate an idea to an invention that addresses a need for global sustainable agriculture. This experience was life-changing, and I would encourage every student to seek out a similar opportunity. I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.”

In addition to the $2,000 prize, the grand-prize winning PetSense team will receive a one-year Seedling membership from Four Athens startup accelerator, allowing access to members-only events, resources for growing companies, and $3,000 in Amazon Web Services credits. The winning team will also receive admission to a Raising Money for Startups in 2018 session, as well as the opportunity to pitch its concept in a one-on-one session with investor Paul Singh.

Boehringer Ingelheim has a significant presence in Georgia, including the headquarters for its U.S. Animal Health business based in Duluth, manufacturing and R&D operations in Athens, and an additional manufacturing site located in Gainesville. As the second largest animal health business in the world, Boehringer Ingelheim is committed to improving animal health. With more than 10,000 employees worldwide, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has products available in more than 150 markets and a global presence in 99 countries. For more information about Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, click here.