Insurtech giant ZhongAn plans to use facial recognition, blockchain to monitor chickens

Tech unit of Hong Kong-listed ZhongAn Online Property & Casualty Insurance targets 23 million birds for project ‘gogochicken’ in three years

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 8:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 6:20pm

ZhongAn Technology, the tech incubator of Chinese insurtech giant ZhongAn Online, is not satisfied with being the first in China to use blockchain technology to monitor the life journey of chickens in organic farming – it now plans to use facial recognition to better identify each bird during real-time monitoring.

The company, a unit of Hong Kong-listed ZhongAn Online Property & Casualty Insurance, is targeting China’s increasingly health-conscious urban consumers, who want to trace the origins of chickens labelled as organic or free-range, and even follow a bird’s life to know how it grew up on the farm.

“Each of our chickens wears an anklet since birth, which is an IoT [internet of things] device that connects wirelessly to our blockchain-based network and sends real-time data about the bird’s whereabouts, and how much exercise it gets every day, ” Chen Wei, chief executive officer for ZhongAn Tech, told the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

“When you shop and see raw chicken [from us], you can simply check on your smartphone app to know its birthplace, what food it ate and how many steps it walked during its life.”

Blockchain is a distributed database that serves as a secure and unalterable ledger of activity, and

it is hard for anyone to tamper with data at any stage of the chicken farming process, said Chen.

The project, called “gogochicken”, was launched in June in Cha’an Town in China’s Anhui province. The chickens grow up on organic and free-range farms, with an average life of four to six months, versus about 45 days for factory farmed chicken, according to ZhongAn Tech.

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“We see a big market potential [for the chicken] in China, as food safety is a highly concerning topic, and the expanding middle class is willing to pay more for healthy and safe meat.”

Consumers can also buy a baby chick and watch it grow on the farm every day, Chen said. He sees potential demand from an emerging consumption pattern dubbed “farm-based tourism”, which is increasingly popular among young urban professionals who like going to idyllic rural areas on weekend trips, to appreciate famous local foods.

And if consumers find it hard to recognise their birds, facial-recognition technology could help them, according to Chen. “We are looking into the possibility of using facial recognition, as it could allow consumers to identify their chickens on monitors,” Chen said. The technology can also be applied in other areas, such as pet care, he added.

Such use of facial recognition is not new. Google recently used the technology to identify people’s pets on its photo storing app, Google Photos. The feature works with cats and dogs.

ZhongAn Tech is also looking into whether the technology can be used in fish farming.

Hangzhou Wupu, which provides anti-counterfeiting IoT devices, and blockchain start-up Anlink are among several companies ZhongAn Tech collaborated with for gogochicken. The project also received support from the local government, and financial service providers such as lenders and insurers, which found that the organic farming process becomes more transparent and, thus, their credit assessment costs go down, said Chen.

He said the project was “close to achieving a break-even”, but the company plans to invest more in cloud computing and other technological infrastructure.

Currently, there are more than 100,000 gogochicken birds wearing IoT anklets. The plan is to increase the total number of such chickens to more than 23 million in three years.