In order to CT scan a horse, the 1,000-pound animal has to be anesthetized and carefully maneuvered into a machine. The procedure is even more difficult than it sounds. A newly developed technique uses a pair of precisely-controlled robots to perform the scan, so that the animal can be awake and standing up while it’s being imaged.

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The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine partnered with a company called 4DDI to develop a new CT imaging system called EQUIMAGINE that relies on a pair of ABB industrial robotic arms similar to those used in auto manufacturing.

Instead of grippers designed to assemble cars on an assembly line, the robots have x-ray emitters and sensors that can be precisely positioned on either side of the horse’s various body parts and slowly moved over time to help build up a 3D image of its internal bones and organs.

Given the strenuous workouts a racehorse endures each day, it’s important to ensure there are no signs of stress on the animal’s bones that could lead to a career-ending break. And being able to image a horse’s legs and other body parts without having to first put it under anesthesia means that as soon as the procedure is over, the animal can get right back on the track.

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The new imaging system, in a smaller form factor, could benefit human patients as well. Adults understand that they need to lie perfectly still while getting a CT scan, but getting kids to stop squirming isn’t so easy. With this technology adapted to humans, a child could just sit in a hospital bed playing on a tablet while a detailed scan is performed around them.

[University of Pennsylvania via IEEE Spectrum]