UGA hackathon leads to pet, livestock care, welfare solutions

Veterinary students, business students, engineers, designers, and more cooperated to share ideas and create novel animal health solutions

Members of PetSense, the grand prize-winning team at the first-ever Georgia Animal Health Hackathon, developed an Alexa-compatible intelligent feeding and weight monitoring system for cats and dogs. Credit: Jonathon Gurr

At the first-ever Georgia Animal Health Hackathon on the University of Georgia campus in Athens (UGA) this past weekend, nearly 100 students worked to develop potential solutions for the care and welfare of pets and livestock.

The animal health-focused hackathon featured such ideas as a fitness tracker for owners and their pets and a thermo-detection drone for early identification of sick livestock.. Nearly 20 mentors from industry, academia, and clinical practice provided feedback and guidance to the teams, culminating in a project showcase and final pitches lasting 4 minutes to an audience of peers, industry representatives, and participants.

The grand prize-winning team, PetSense, developed an Alexa-compatible intelligent feeding and weight monitoring system for cats and dogs.

Other teams were recognized for their projects in three categories.

The AutoMat team was recognized in the Animal Human Bond category for its nonslip, self-disinfecting, reusable mat that provides a more comfortable examining table surface for pets.

The Third Arm team was recognized in the Disease Diagnostics, Preventive Measures and Tracking category for its innovation of a surgical tool to enable precise placement of screws during surgery.

The Chirp Alert team was recognized in the Sustainable Agriculture category 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, BVSc, Ph.D., 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 the event.

“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 multidisciplinary expertise in developing potential new solutions.”

“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 grand prize, the 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 team also will 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.

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