This smart gadget is helping farmers analyze pig sperm. Yours could be next
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Photo Credit: Liz West / Flickr

Taiwan-based Aidmics wants to use its technology on people eventually. Until then…

Tech in Asia

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a pig farmer. But if you are indeed a pig farmer, you’ll be pleased to learn that startups are creating cool new gadgets just for you. A startup in Taiwan has created an add-on gizmo for the iPad Mini that allows farmers to analyze boar sperm. Yes, boar sperm.

Microscopic

For farmers, pigs are the richest part of the livestock industry, explain Jolanda Hsu and Mavis Hong from Aidmics, a startup that grew out of a project at National Taiwan University (NTU).

The startup’s gadget, iSperm, is a smart piece of hardware consisting of a microfluidic chip (that’s the testing part) and a high-resolution microscope (the analysis part) that ties to an app. It looks more like some kind of fancy camera lens, and comes with the case that the microscope holds onto.

Photo Credit: Aidmics

Photo Credit: Aidmics

The idea is that it provides everything a breeder or farmer needs to check boar sperm quality and make decisions about breeding that will benefit the business.

The whole iSperm piece of hardware costs just under $2,000, though that can vary in each country where it’s sold. That seems to be cheaper than most such specialist testing devices on the market, which are bulky, industrial-looking gizmos that give read-outs on LCD screens – and it serves as a microscope too, so it does the job of two pricey bits of kit.

Fertility testing for humans

The iSperm hardware grew out of a NTU project by the four co-founders that was originally designed to analyze human sperm and do fertility tests. It takes a long time for such a medical device to get FDA certification for use on human patients, so the Taipei-based team decided to bide time by diverting the business into agriculture. While that goes on, the gadget is undergoing clinical trials on humans at hospitals in Taiwan, says Hsu, who is the startup’s business development manager.

In just 17 seconds, the “dip and cap” testing nib offers results, which are then displayed in the accompanying free app. That app also allows farmers to take short videos of up to seven seconds of the boar sperm as it moves, which means farmers can use it to get further analysis from a professional. Or perhaps post it to Vine.

The team plans to get back into human sperm analysis and fertility testing as soon as it has approval, though it’s not yet clear what form that will take. Home testing kits for men are already on the market in several countries for as little as $25 – however, those kits only test sperm concentration and do not answer the agonizing question of whether a man is fertile or not, according to the Mayo Clinic.

That means there is still a space for smart hardware like Aidmics’ to go to ordinary people. However, it remains uncertain whether consumers will be willing to pay the price for smart hardware to answer a once-in-a-lifetime question, when they might expect something cheaper and disposable like some kind of pregnancy testing kit.

Photo Credit: Aidmics

Photo Credit: Aidmics

While it’s all up in the air for now, the Aidmics crew sees a chance to make male fertility testing a lot more accurate than it is now – and a lot more discreet. “We want to make it more private,” Hong says, “so that men won’t have to go to a hospital for a fertility test – instead they can just whip out their iPad.”

“Our expertise is in the structural design of microscopes and image processing algorithms,” Hsu explains, which means the startup is open to expanding to other biomedical areas, not just focusing on sperm and fertility. “Like cell counting,” she adds. The team is aiming to build “a series of mobile microscopic systems” that play to their hardware strengths.

For now, iSperm is aimed at pig farmers and breeders in Taiwan and across China, while the startup team builds up distributors in other countries in the west. China makes up about half of the world’s pork market, says Hsu, so it makes sense that the nation is a priority for the young startup. The product is already on sale in both Taiwan and China.

Editing by Terence Lee.

This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.

Featured Image Credit: Liz West / Flickr

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