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The smart home is a fantasy, but 'smart cows' are already real

Why connect a cow to the internet? To make more cows, of course.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

The long-anticipated “Internet of Things” has yet to make a dent in most everyday life. (Except, perhaps, for the group of enthusiasts celebrating “IoT Day” today in places like Culver City, Calif., Moscow and Tehran.) But the idea of using Internet-connected sensors for business and industrial purposes is already showing success.

This brings us to cows. While consumption of beef may be declining in the U.S., it’s increasing in other countries, putting pressure on cattle ranchers around the world to find ways to boost production by keeping fertile cows producing calves at a faster rate.

It’s a tricky business determining when a cow is fertile and ready for artificial insemination, and the point — put kind of bluntly — is to keep them pregnant and producing. But the signs of fertility last for only a few hours and are sometimes easy to miss.

One strong hint that a cow is fertile is an increase in walking, though it often occurs at night when no one is around. A system developed by the Japanese electronics firm Fujitsu fits cows with connected pedometers that count their steps. If a cow’s step-count increases during the night, it’s a pretty strong sign she’s ready to be inseminated in the morning. This can dramatically increase pregnancy rates.

Connected cows are just one example of thousands of connected devices that are either in works or already being deployed around the world. And while it’s easy to see potential benefits, there are also new vulnerabilities.

All those things that get connected to the Internet are going to have to be protected. A recent survey of consumer attitudes in eight countries including the U.S. found that a clear majority of people are worried about the privacy and security implications of more connected things in their homes.

Similar concerns about security extend to industrial systems. Just last month a federal grand jury indicted seven Iranian people for a series of cyber attacks in the U.S., including one who in 2013 took over the control systems of a small dam in Rye, N.Y. For all the high-flying promises of the Internet of Things, don’t forget to be a little critical, too.

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