Moocall, a text alert system for pregnant cows, is nominated for London Design Museum’s Design of the Year 2015.

Is This Text-Message Alert System for Pregnant Cows the Design of the Year?

Is This Text-Message Alert System for Pregnant Cows the Design of the Year?

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Feb. 24 2015 1:15 PM

Is This Text-Message Alert System for Pregnant Cows the Design of the Year?

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Moocall sends text messages to farmers when their pregnant cows are about an hour away from giving birth.

Courtesy of the Design Museum

London’s Design Museum revealed its 76 nominees for Design of the Year 2015 on Thursday. The list spans architecture, fashion, product design, digital design, graphics, and transport, and it includes high-profile projects such as Google’s self-driving car, a French supermarket campaign to reduce food waste by selling misshapen vegetables, and Norway’s cool redesigned banknotes.

This year, as the Design Museum noted in a press release, many of the nominees share “the desire to harness new technologies to solve long-standing problems.” One such nominee is Moocall, an Irish birth-monitoring gadget that alerts farmers when cows are in labor. Since awards like Design of the Year can seem as reductive and subjective as the Oscars, it’s refreshing to see a prominent design institution highlight a solution to a specialized problem that’s otherwise invisible to the public, despite having a far-reaching impact on the farmers of the world.

Moocall noninvasively hooks onto the tail of a pregnant cow (unlike more invasive cow birthing monitors) and sends a text message to the farmer when the cow’s about an hour away from giving birth. Dreamed up by farmer Niall Austin, Moocall was designed to free farmers from keeping vigil over pregnant cows and to help increase live births and farm profitability. The device, which the company says can be shared among 50 to 60 cows, uses 3-D motion sensors, algorithms, and an embedded roaming M2M SIM card that claims it can pick up even weak network signals.

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Moocall, which fastens onto a cow's tail, was designed to withstand harsh farm conditions and the animal’s desire to lick, eat, or crush it.

Courtesy of the Design Museum

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Austin said that cow labor can be as hard to predict as human labor and sometimes requires farmers’ supervision. Moocall says that cellphones can be set to recognize the Moocall number and recommends setting a specific ringtone for Moocall alerts, particularly for those that arrive overnight.

Although Austin designed the device for the cows at his County Offaly, Ireland, farm, he hopes to tap into the cattle markets across the U.S., Canada, and South America.

“I have lost heifers and calves on my own farm simply because I was not there to help and after the last tragic incident in 2010, I wanted to try and find a way to prevent it happening again,” Austin told Irish Tech News. “Losing a cow and calf during birthing process is heart-breaking and very often completely preventable.”

Moocall, which says on its website that it was “designed by farmers for farmers,” was created with help from Irish technology partners Motech Engineering and Dolmen. They noted that on-the-farm prototyping helped them to shape the design and build a device strong enough to stand up to harsh elements and “counter the cow’s natural curiosity to eat, lick and crush the Moocall units.”

The Design of the Year category winners will be announced in May and the overall winner in June. The designs will be exhibited at the Design Museum in London from March 25 to Aug. 23.

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.