Trade Me chief technology and product officer Simon Young has revealed his next gig: VP of engineering at Halter - the smart-cow startup bankrolled by Rocket Lab's Peter Beck, Peter Thiel and Sir Stephen Tindall.
Trade Me has named Air New Zealand CTO Paolo Ragone to replace Young, from the end of May. The musical chairs stops with the airline, which is advertising to fill Ragone's role.
Halter makes solar-powered smart collars for cattle that, combined with GPS and a smartphone app, let a farmer manage a herd and track key data remotely (see video below).
Beck, who is also on Halter's board, said, "Building a global company requires incredible talent at every position. Simon's technical expertise and leadership will be a tremendous addition to the Halter team."
Halter was founded in 2016 by one of Beck's ex-staff, Craig Piggott, who worked as a mechanical engineer at Rocket Lab (and before that, like Beck before him, was an engineer at Fisher & Paykel).
After more than three years of product development, Halter's commercial launch is now close.
"Halter has been working closely with a selection of top farmers in the Waikato, commencing deployment on a small number of initial farms," Piggott told the Herald.
"Having set up mass production offshore [in China], a public launch will happen later this year."
Pricing had yet to be made public, but a likely model is that farmers could get the collars for free - so there's no capex shock - but pay a monthly subscription, per cow, for the associated software.
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"We know it has to financially make sense for their operations," Piggott says.
The collars can work over cellular data or, if reception is patchy, satellite broadband. Halter does the connectivity setup.
Earlier, after he was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 finalist, Piggott said his "aha" moment came while he was working at Rocket Lab — Beck's satellite launch company.
Wondering why we could launch rockets into space when farmers were still walking behind their cows, he realised the dairy industry had changed little since the advent of the milking machine.
He'd come up with an idea while studying for an engineering degree, but says the pieces didn't come together until he was at Rocket Lab.
After he had founded Halter, Piggott, now 25, has developed a GPS-enabled cow collar — a solar-powered tracking device which allows farmers to shift and monitor their herds remotely.
It will self-herd cows and send data about their behaviour, emotions and health to farmers by phone, Piggott says, giving farmers "unprecedented control over cow movements".
The device uses sound and vibration to create a virtual boundary to keep cows in one place or to herd them to another.
"The smartest cows only take two hours to train," Piggott said.
"The farmer then has the ability to use the remote technology to shift the cows around the farm.
"The collars can be programmed to bring the cows to the milking shed at certain times and identify cows on heat.
"The collar has huge animal welfare benefits, especially on larger farms. If a cow stops eating because she's sick or lame, she can be identified sooner."
He sees Halter's collars revolutionising the dairy sector, reducing labour and infrastructure costs.
Piggott had to top up his student loan to buy parts for his prototype and used his own belt to attach the device to the cow.
But Halter has now raised more than US$8 million, with Beck, Thiel and Tandall joined by Silicon Valley-based Data Collective (like Tindall, also a Rocket Lab investor).
New appointee Young will be leading the software, firmware and data science teams at Halter.
He says he'll be responsible for scaling the platform to handle the large volumes of animal guidance and behavioural data that enables dairy farmers to physically guide and monitor cows around a farm.
The Trade Me alumnus will also lead the engineering development of future products on the platform.