Next Little Thing 2009

Each year Fortune Small Business celebrates entrepreneurs whose cutting-edge ideas will keep us talking for the next 12 months. Check out this year's crop of flying cars, blimp power and GPS-enhanced cows.

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Digital roundup
Building and maintaining fences for cattle is a time-consuming and costly endeavor. That's why a GPS bovine headset may come in handy.

This past year, Dean Anderson and Daniela Rus have designed and tested Ear-a-Round headsets on the USDA's 193,000-acre ranch near Las Cruces, N.M. Each Ear-a-Round is equipped with a GPS receiver, an accelerometer and a magnetometer that respectively track the cow's location, speed and direction.

Before an animal roams beyond its pre-programed virtual boundaries, defined by GPS coordinates, the computer sends an auditory cue intended to keep the cow in its paddock. (Anderson's experiments show his cattle respond to his voice.)

Next on Anderson and Rus's agenda: commercializing Ear-a-Round. Each device costs a stiff $600 to produce, but they need to retail it for about $100 to reach a wider audience. "The concept of virtual fencing is commercially viable," Anderson says. "But I'd be remiss if I said we don't have challenges ahead." - Cindy Waxer

NEXT: Keeping up with the Jetsons

LAST UPDATE: Dec 04 2008 | 10:38 AM ET
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