Happy as a pig in... sci­en­tists study ex­pres­sions to get pic­ture of moods

The Herald - - NEWS - JODY HAR­RI­SON

IT is more of­ten de­ployed to help iden­tify crim­i­nals in a crowd, to un­lock a phone or to tag friends on a so­cial me­dia photo post.

But now sci­en­tists are us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware to find out if a pig in mud re­ally is as happy as has been be­lieved up to now.

The state of the art tech­nol­ogy is to be used to pigs in a wide-rang­ing study to de­ter­mine if it can help farm­ers iden­tify the an­i­mals’ mood and gain help­ful in­sights into their well­be­ing.

An­i­mal be­haviourist­s from Scot­land’s Ru­ral Col­lege (SRUC) in Ed­in­burgh have teamed up with ma­chine vi­sion ex­perts at the Univer­sity of the West of Eng­land (UWE Bris­tol) for the re­search, which it is hoped will lead to a tool that can mon­i­tor in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals’ faces and alert farm­ers to any health and wel­fare prob­lems.

Pigs are highly ex­pres­sive and SRUC re­search has pre­vi­ously shown they can sig­nal their in­ten­tions to other pigs us­ing dif­fer­ent fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

There is also ev­i­dence of dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sions when they are in pain or un­der stress.

At SRUC’S Pig Re­search Cen­tre in Mid­loth­ian, sci­en­tists are cap­tur­ing

3D and 2D fa­cial im­ages of the breed­ing sow pop­u­la­tion un­der sit­u­a­tions that are likely to re­sult in dif­fer­ent emo­tional states.

One ex­am­ple they are pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to is whether sows that have gone lame show dif­fer­ent fa­cial ex­pres­sions re­lat­ing to pain be­fore and af­ter be­ing given pain relief.

How­ever, de­tect­ing a pos­i­tive emo­tional state is more novel but the sci­en­tists are hop­ing that pigs’ well-known love of food will help them out.

Sows are said to be highly mo­ti­vated by food, and ap­pear calm and con­tent when they are full. It is hoped their mood will be re­flected in their fa­cial ex­pres­sions, giv­ing re­searchers a tem­plate to in­di­cate when the pigs are feel­ing well.

Im­ages of the pigs are pro­cessed at

UWE Bris­tol’s Cen­tre for Ma­chine Vi­sion, where var­i­ous cut­ting-edge learn­ing tech­niques are be­ing de­vel­oped to au­to­mat­i­cally iden­tify dif­fer­ent emo­tions con­veyed by the an­i­mals’ par­tic­u­lar fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

Af­ter val­i­dat­ing these tech­niques, the team will de­velop the tech­nol­ogy for on-farm use with com­mer­cial part­ners where in­di­vid­ual sows in large herds will be mon­i­tored con­tin­u­ously.

It is hoped that the tech­nique could help farm­ers save money by spot­ting prob­lems with their live­stock early, as well as im­prov­ing the pigs wel­fare.

Dr Emma Bax­ter, from SRUC, said: “Early iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of pig health is­sues gives farm­ers the po­ten­tial to im­prove an­i­mal well­be­ing by tack­ling any prob­lems quickly and im­ple­ment­ing tai­lored treat­ment for in­di­vid­u­als. This will re­duce pro­duc­tion costs by pre­vent­ing im­pact of health is­sues on per­for­mance. By fo­cus­ing on the pig’s face, we hope to de­liver a truly an­i­mal-cen­tric wel­fare as­sess­ment tech­nique, where the an­i­mal can ‘tell’ us how it feels about its own in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences and en­vi­ron­ment.

She added: “This al­lows in­sight into both short-term emo­tional re­ac­tions and long-term in­di­vid­ual ‘moods’ of an­i­mals un­der our care.”

Pro­fes­sor Melvyn Smith, from UWE Bris­tol’s Cen­tre for Ma­chine Vi­sion, part of the Bris­tol Robotics Lab­o­ra­tory, said that work to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sions sported by pigs was well un­der way, and that the next stage would be to tie that to their emo­tional states. Then a com­puter will have to be taught to make the link au­to­mat­i­cally, al­low­ing herds to be mon­i­tored by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Mr Smith said: “Ma­chine vi­sion tech­nol­ogy of­fers the po­ten­tial to re­alise a low-cost, non-in­tru­sive and prac­ti­cal means to bio­met­ri­cally iden­tify in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals on the farm. Our work has al­ready demon­strated a 97% ac­cu­racy at fa­cial recog­ni­tion in pigs. Our next step will be, for the first time, to ex­plore the po­ten­tial for us­ing ma­chine vi­sion to au­to­mat­i­cally recog­nise fa­cial ex­pres­sions that are linked with core emo­tion states, such as hap­pi­ness or dis­tress, in the iden­ti­fied pigs.”

The study, which is be­ing funded by the Biotech­nol­ogy and Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences Re­search Coun­cil, is also be­ing sup­ported by in­dus­try stake­hold­ers

JSR Ge­net­ics Ltd and Garth Pig Prac­tice, as well as pre­ci­sion live­stock spe­cial­ists Agsenze.

The pig can ‘tell’ us how it feels about its own ex­pe­ri­ences

Pic­ture: Cor­bis

„ These two pigs look as if they are en­joy­ing life and that’s what sci­en­tists want to see as they try out fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware on them.

„ These two im­ages of a pig show how fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy is reg­is­ter­ing the an­i­mal’s emo­tional state.

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