NRGXP has been indispensable in bringing NIGHTWATCH® to market. From the project’s inception, they have been a key partner in all facets of the development process.
— Jeffrey Schab, Founder & CEO, Protequus LLC

Protequus Launches Nightwatch Edge-Computing Smart Halter, An Early Warning System For Horses

Patrick Moorhead , May 1, 2018

Nearly two and half years ago, I conducted some research on and wrote an article about an IIoT (Industrial IoT)-enabled horse halter in early-stage development, called NIGHTWATCH. While my family is heavily involved in horses, I had no idea that over 100,000 people would be interested in and read the article. Today, Austin-based Protequus, a biomedical engineering, and data-science firm, in collaboration with NRGXP, an engineering and IoT consulting firm, announced the U.S. and Canadian launch and shipment of the NIGHTWATCH smart halter.

When I first wrote about NIGHTWATCH, I did not have full access to all the technical details as it was in early development, but now I do, and I am blown away by the level of sophistication and amount of bleeding-edge technology organized into a very small and low-profile form factor.

Here are details of what I find the most interesting technical aspects of NIGHTWATCH, which includes its ability to do “edge computing”, how it leverages machine learning, the novel application of Ultra-Wideband Impulse Radar (UWB-IR), and overall wireless implementation. Let me first review why NIGHTWATCH exists in the first place.

Colic is the primary cause of death in horses, and according to NIGHTWATCH, the “AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) estimates that more than 900,000 horses in the U.S. will experience an episode of colic each year.”  That is an astounding number, but if found early, colic is easily treatable in the majority of horses and more importantly, is survivable. The challenge with horses (unlike our cats and dogs) is they spend much of their day unsupervised in a barn, large pasture, etc. so when horses colic, there may not be anyone around to see them, or if a person is around, they may not know how to spot it.

The NIGHTWATCH halter (and optional safety collar) was designed to bridge this gap by monitoring real-time biometric & behavior data and alerting up to 5 people via phone call and text at the earliest signs of a problem so they can intervene sooner. Because this technology is “smart” it learns each horse’s unique physiology and looks for deviation that may be indicative of equine distress, such as colicbeing cast, and foaling (giving birth).

The edge compute choice

Over the last two years, the amount of “edge computing” technology industry dialogue and discussion has taken off. That discussion was driven in the IoT context and the realization that not everything that computes makes sense to be processed entirely in the cloud. While no rational person thinks all compute should be in the cloud versus local, it’s really the percentage of what gets done on the edge, gateway, and in the cloud. For certain applications where responsiveness, latency, security, network costs, and even fault tolerance is important, using edge compute makes more sense. This was true for the NIGHTWATCH smart halter, as the company says it needs to process over 300MB of data every day for every device.

Therefore, NIGHTWATCH needed ways to remotely monitor a horse with and without a persistent wireless connection. It’s one thing for an Amazon.com Echo to not be able to connect to WiFi or Amazon.com, but it’s another thing entirely when it comes to a loved and expensive horse. NIGHTWATCH says that without on-device computation, the device would instead have to upload all the data, compute it in the cloud, and then notify owners or caregivers, which could introduce more latency and be very costly to energy consumption. Additionally, there is a visual distress indicator in the form of LED that can report horse distress without any connection. Therefore, a person can walk-by and quickly evaluate a horse’s general well-being via the LED without any connection.

Some data does need to be uploaded to improve machine learning training models and for archive in Amazon.com AWS S3, and the halter supports WiFi and cellular communications for that. It is likely that a lot of that data could be transmitted via an expensive, cellular connection, so pre-processing the data makes sense here, too.

Here are the silicon sensors that feed the MCU and MPU in the NIGHTWATCH smart halter:

  • Novelda Xethru UWB radar - Operating within 3 GHz to 10 GHz, this transmits the raw UWB-IR RF signal that is then processed on the device to calculate the horse’s heart and respiratory rates. The sensor can measure heart and respiratory rates by detecting small displacements in the microvascular system and physical changes in the soft tissue behind the horse’s ears. The raw radar data comes into the MCU at about 7KB per second.
  • Telit GNSS GPS module - This sensor is used to determine the horse’s location and to calculate distance moved.
  • Invensense 9-axis accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope - This measures the horse’s movement and comes into the MCU at about 1 KB per second.
  • TE Connectivity barometric pressure sensor - This sensor, in addition to the 9-axis accelerometer, is used to better predict posture.

So overall, with around 8KB of data being collected every second per horse, generating 300MB every 12 hours, the halter needed on-device processing.

Here are some of the notable processing silicon:

  • NXP Semiconductors M0 microcontroller (MCU) - Used to accurately sample and pre-process the sensor data outlined above. It runs FreeRTOS and Arm CMSIS software to connect the MCU to the sensors.
  • NXP Semiconductors I.MX6 processor (CPU) - Processes real-time fuzzy logic machine learning inference algorithms that computes the EDI (Equine Distress Index) based on the pre-processed data from the MCU. The CPU runs a custom Linux OS and software for linear algebra algorithms, frequency analysis, equation evaluation, object-relational mapping, and fuzzy logic.
  • Micron Technology 4GB eMMC - Stores motion data before AWS S3 archival.
  • Texas Instruments and NXP Semiconductors PMICs - Used to manage and optimize the system and power use to maximize battery life.
  • Maxim Integrated Products battery gauge - This gives the user an estimate of current battery capacity.

Over time, NIGHTWATCH says it will be optimizing its algorithms to reduce power draw and hence improve battery life beyond the stated overnight usage of 12-16 hours. Longer-term, the company can see moving to an FPGA or ASIC once the algorithms have been fully optimized. Does this sound familiar to what many other leading companies are thinking related to edge computing? Absolutely.

Algorithms and machine learning

NIGHTWATCH says that it uses MathWorks MATLAB to prototype machine learning training and on-device algorithms (hand-converted/optimized to C) to predict equine distress.

Training models are created on an on-premise cluster. The company says it syncs data from AWS S3 to an in-house cluster storage, trains the models, and then pushes them up to S3 for the halters to download. NIGHTWATCH says during the training period of approximately 2 weeks, models can require over 16GB RAM of data. NIGHTWATCH has not pushed model learning to AWS as the company prefers a complete understanding of the memory, CPU, and GPU (NVIDIA CUDA libraries near future) requirements before selecting the appropriate cloud infrastructure compute needs and cost). NIGHTWATCH says it’s open to doing cloud training on Amazon.com AWS, Google GCP, or Microsoft Azure in the future as the need arises.

NIGHTWATCH can be managed on smartphone, tablet, and PC (NIGHTWATCH)

NIGHTWATCH chose MATLAB, Gaussian Mixture Models (GMM), and Expectation Maximization (EMM) algorithms for some very pragmatic purposes—when it began in 2014, frameworks like Tensorflow, Caffe, and Torch were not even available. That, plus NIGHTWATCH believes that many of them use languages and multiple 3rd-party libraries that are not yet suitable for low-level embedded processors with resource constraints.

Very hairy wireless implementation

Just because the NIGHTWATCH halter is an exceptional edge-computing IIoT example, it doesn’t mean it is immune from needing a leading-edge wireless solution. What’s even more difficult is being battery-powered and organizing all this in a small form factor like a horse halter.

Here are the wireless technologies inside the halter and what they do:

  • Novelda Xethru UWB-IR and Custom Antennas - Operating from 3,000 to 10,000 MHz, this is used to detect the horse’s heart and respiratory rates.
  • Telit Communications GPS module and Antenova antenna - Operating at 1,559-1,609MHz, the GPS antenna is used to determine the halter location and better determine motion.
  • Texas Instruments WiFi chip and TDK Corp antenna - Operating at 5,000 MHz and 2,400 MHz, enables halter connectivity to a WiFi router for alerts and data upload.
  • Telit Communications PLC cellular modem and Antenova antenna - Operating at 824 to 960MHz and 1,710 to 2,170 MHz, enables halter connectivity to a 3G carrier network for alerts and data upload.

One cannot have giant antennas sticking up like a WiFi router does and therefore, antenna design is tricky. Once NIGHTWATCH got all the signals working well in a cramped space, half the work was over. Now it needed to pass FCC, IC, and PTCRB regulatory requirements. If you cannot meet these requirements and get those certifications, you are not operating in the U.S. or Canada nor are you connecting to a carrier’s network.

While certification for WiFi, cellular, and Bluetooth are very well known and common, almost no one knows much about UWB-IR. According to NIGHTWATCH engineers, most testing laboratories did not even have the right equipment to test, did not understand the use case or the testing requirements, and even new ground had to be broken surrounding permissible exemptions for SAR (specific absorption rate) testing. Phones are one thing, but IoT-enabled devices without voice transmission requirements for horses with UWB-IR mixed in is another thing entirely. The NIGHTWATCH smart halter received FCC, IC and PTCRB certification and passed IEC-60950 safety testing in the Fall of 2017 and the company says it will be available to horses in the U.S. and Canada starting April 26, 2018.

Edge compute, but the cloud still helps

Even though the NIGHTWATCH halter is a great edge computing example, it still uses the public cloud for various tasks. The company uses Amazon.com AWS S3 for:

  • User login and security
  • Web UI presentation and back-end database
  • Alerts for owners or caregivers
  • Storage and archival of raw biometric and behavior data, logs, and machine learning models
  • Distributing new inference machine learning algorithms to the halter

As I highlighted above in the machine learning section, the company currently uses an on-premise, private cloud cluster for algorithm creation.

Wrapping up

NIGHTWATCH is the most sophisticated animal IoT device I have ever researched and one of the most sophisticated IoT device I have ever seen. Hopefully, you get a better idea of why I think the NIGHTWATCH smart halter is a good example of modern IIoT edge computing. For use cases like this where latency, network resilience, and cellular network costs are very important, it makes better sense to do the compute closer to where the data is collected.

While I may be enamored with the compute, machine learning, wireless technology, and issued patents, Protequus and NRGXP are most interested in saving animals’ lives, which, in the end, is the better reason. The company says online sales start May 1st, 2018. You can find more about NIGHTWATCH here.

Find Patrick Moorhead on the webTwitterLinkedInFacebook, and Google+.


Protequus® Expands IP Portfolio for NIGHTWATCH®

February 22, 2018

Protequus® announces the issuance of a supplemental utility patent (patent no. 9,894,885) by the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for MOBILE ANIMAL SURVEILLANCE AND DISTRESS MONITORING. This patent enhances the already robust portfolio of intellectual property (IP) behind NIGHTWATCH®, the World’s first smart halter™. NIGHTWATCH® is a revolutionary IoT-enabled device that acts as an early warning system for horses whereby caretakers are alerted via text, phone call, and email at the first signs of a problem, such as colic and other forms of equine distress.

The road to receiving a utility patent is a long one that often takes many years, if successful. To begin, an inventor must conceive of a solution to a problem. This solution must be unique, novel, and non-obvious in nature. In the case of NIGHTWATCH®, the problem is equine colic, which is the leading natural case of death in horses and second only to old age. If detected early, colic can be easily managed in the vast majority of horses without the need for costly or invasive surgery. Unfortunately, horses spend much of their day unsupervised, so early identification and intervention of colic is often delayed and results in poor survival and qualify-of-life outcomes.

To identify early signs of equine distress, NIGHTWATCH® analyzes real-time data on a horse’s vital signs and behaviors. Whereas a 9-axis IMU (inertial measurement unit) gathers data on their activity, motion, and posture, UWB-IR (ultra-wideband impulse radar) monitors their heart rate and respiratory rate, the two most important vital signs that correlate with pain and acute distress in horses. UWB-IR is a safe radio technology that uses very low energy over a large portion of the radio spectrum. After years of refinement, engineers at Protequus® and NRGXP have harnessed this non-invasive technology to measure the physical displacement (ie, constriction and dilation) of the microvasculature around a horse’s poll (ie, area behind their ears) for heart rate, while also assessing physical changes in the soft tissue of their upper respiratory region for respiratory rate. “The issuance of this patent comes at a great time for us as we are presently preparing for the US and Canadian launch of NIGHTWATCH® on April 26, 2018, just prior to the start of the Kentucky 3-Day Event in Lexington, KY,” says Jeffrey R. Schab, Founder & CEO of Protequus®.

NIGHTWATCH® (www.nightwatch24.com) is the World's first smart halter™ (optional safety collar) designed to alert caretakers via text, phone call, and email at the early signs of danger/distress in their horse, such as colic, being cast, and foaling. This patented IoT-enabled device monitors real-time data on a horse’s vital signs and behaviors, works across 3G/cellular and Wi-Fi networks, offers GPS tracking, and leverages AI/machine learning to adapt to each horse over time for maximum precision and benefit. Access to real-time insight and historical information, including a horse's EDI® (Equine Distress Index®) score, is available on-demand 24/7 from any smartphone, tablet, or computer.

About Protequus®
Protequus® (www.protequus.com) is a biomedical engineering and data science firm in Austin, TX dedicated to equine health & safety. Founded in 2013 after the sudden loss of one of his horses to colic, Jeffrey R. Schab—an accomplished equestrian and biomedical engineer—assembled a team of passionate science & technology professionals to find a solution to combat the devastating impact of colic, which claims the lives of >60,000 horses each year in the US and results in more than $700 million in annual losses. Today, that solution is known as NIGHTWATCH® and will be available to horses domiciled in the US and Canada starting on April 26, 2018.

NRGXP (www.nrgxp.com) is a multi-disciplinary technology company in Rochester, NY that creates comprehensive end-to-end solutions for the IoT ecosystem. Their team of software developers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and industrial designers turn client passions and ideas into commercially viable products and services.

Contact: Jeffrey R. Schab, 800-757-3856 or jrschab@protequus.com


ANSYS Dimensions Winter 2017 - Focus on Startups Feature

March 7, 2017

Sometimes great ideas are born out of tragedy. That was certainly the case in August 2013 when Jeffrey Schab — an equestrian, engineer and entrepreneur — lost one of his horses to colic in the middle of the night.

“Although colic is the leading natural cause of death in horses, it’s usually easy to treat and benign if you intervene early, which means you need to be aware that the animal is in danger or distress,” says Jeffrey. “Immediately I thought, ‘Surely there must be some way to remotely monitor the general health status of a horse when no one is around and, more important, alert someone when there’s an issue.”

As a world-class equestrian, biomedical engineer and co-founder of a successful network of healthcare marketing companies, Jeffrey knew he had both the passion and the expertise to invent and commercialize a remote monitoring solution for horses. So he formed a new company, Protequus LLC — which combines the word “protection” with equus, the Latin word for horse — to answer this market need.

However, Jeffrey faced one major challenge. He needed someone to design and fabricate the necessary software and hardware to make his vision a reality. Fortunately, he didn’t have to look far. His brother, Michael Schab, is also an established engineer and entrepreneur — as well as owner and co-founder of a technology consulting firm, NRGXP LLC, which specializes in Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

Although Protequus is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and NRGXP is based in Rochester, New York, the brothers’ close relationship has bridged the physical distance and resulted in a successful business partnership. “My initial vision and product idea came solely from an emotional place, and the fact that I had witnessed a market need firsthand,” notes Jeffrey. “Michael brought the expertise, bench strength and conviction needed to engineer the best possible solution.”

The resulting IoT-enabled product, NIGHTWATCH®, is the world’s first smart halter — or optional safety collar — that can save a horse’s life through early intervention in the event of danger or distress.  By continuously monitoring real-time data on a horse’s heart rate and respiratory rate, as well as its behaviors, motions and posture, NIGHTWATCH identifies abnormal patterns. The device then automatically alerts a caretaker via text, phone or email.

“NIGHTWATCH is like a home security system for your horse’s health. The system is designed to automatically alert you to a problem, any time of the day or night, so you don’t have to worry or stay up monitoring an app or video camera yourself,” says Jeffrey. “Since horses spend about half their time unsupervised, whether in a pasture or a barn, NIGHTWATCH is there when you can’t be.”

Having earned a degree in electrical and computer engineering, Michael understands the power and value of engineering simulation, especially when combined with design of experiments (DOE) methodologies. Throughout the NIGHTWATCH development program, ANSYS HFSS was utilized exclusively to understand and identify the driving factors affecting the reliable performance of the halter’s onboard ultra-wideband impulse radar (UWB-IR) antenna.

Simulation enabled the Protequus team to study a wide range of factors that could impact antenna performance, while high-performance computing allowed numerically large computations to be run in parallel extremely quickly.

“The halter has a novel antenna system that uses UWB-IR to measure biometrics, which are often the first sign of pain and distress in these animals,” Michael explains. “ANSYS HFSS has served as a kind of ‘tuning fork’ to help perfect the signaling capabilities of NIGHTWATCH and ensure that it will operate reliably in real-world conditions.”

“Without simulation, I would have had to rely on guesswork and physical prototypes, which would be hugely time-consuming — if not impossible,” Michael continues.  “With a unique product like NIGHTWATCH, we needed to have complete confidence in signal integrity, while moving quickly to make this lifesaving device available to as many horses as possible.”

“Each day, more than 100 horses in the United States alone will die of colic, and that’s what keeps us up at night,” states Jeffrey.  “We’re literally on the cusp of not only saving horses’ lives, but also revolutionizing how insurance companies assess risk, how veterinarians practice telemedicine, and how researchers use real-world data to study and prevent colic and other forms of equine distress.”


NIGHTWATCH® Equine Distress & Wellness Monitor

January 1, 2017

Working with horses is a labor of love, and one that horse owner Jeffrey Schab is passionate about. After suddenly losing one of his beloved show horses in the middle of the night to a gastrointestinal condition known as colic, Jeffrey was driven to make a difference and began ideating on what we know today as NIGHTWATCH®.

NIGHTWATCH® is the world's first smart halter/collar that can save a horse's life through early intervention of danger or distress, such as colic. Through remote monitoring of real-time data on a horse’s biometrics and behaviors, NIGHTWATCH® identifies abnormal activity and alerts caretakers via text/phone/email before a serious problem arises. This IoT-enabled device works across 3G/cellular and Wi-Fi networks, offers GPS tracking, uses wireless inductive charging, and adapts to each horse as the system learns their unique and normal patterns and parameters.

Recognizing the developmental challenges from the outset, Jeffrey formed Protequus LLC and partnered with NRGXP to bring NIGHTWATCH® to market. Beginning with Jeffrey’s initial idea, the multidisciplinary team at NRGXP identified core technologies best suited to deliver on the vision. Further, given the device’s wearable form factor and the harsh all-weather environment it will exist in, NRGXP also laid the design groundwork necessary to ensure all of NIGHTWATCH’s® cutting-edge technology will effectively function and survive in the field.

Built around a novel antenna system utilizing ultra-wide band radar to measure biometrics, the engineering team at NRGXP paired PCB development with RF simulation to build a powerful, yet efficient electronics package with a minimal footprint. In parallel, NRGXP’s design team worked in lock step fashion to develop a unique, articulating endoskeleton that seals and armors the sensitive electronics package. Using custom software, NIGHTWATCH® distills the multitude of data points collected from the horse and applies purpose-written algorithms to inform the user of health alerts via a custom backend infrastructure, all developed for Protequus by NRGXP. Down to the packaging that NIGHTWATCH® will be shipped in, NRGXP delivered a polished, turn-key product. Today, with a roadmap for launch and a framework for expansion, Protequus has the giddy-up for long-term success.

Protequus LLC is devoted to optimizing health-related outcomes and enhancing the well-being of horses.  Based in Austin, Texas, the company follows an ethos of Inspiration, Integrity, Innovation, and Ingenuity in making responsible choices on behalf of these animals and the people who care for them.