Researchers are using Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio wave imaging, as an alternative to CT scanners and ultrasound, the key diagnostic tools used to capture internal images of animals.

UHF imaging

Radio waves were thought to be unsuitable for the job and no match for the more omnipresent CT scanners, which are accurate but use X-ray radiation, are expensive and not suited to on-farm applications. While ultrasound scanners are less expensive and more mobile, they require physical contact with animals and that creates handling and other logistical issues.

Researcher Shane Leath explains: “Tissues absorbs UHF electromagnetic waves differently at certain frequencies. The question was, could we measure those differences well enough to distinguish between different tissues and with enough spatial resolution to be useful.

“The experts had already dismissed the idea, but we were not so sure. We went ahead and built equipment using metamaterial technology and some tailored software to produce a representative image of a cow’s pelvis. It’s pretty rudimentary at this stage. Nevertheless, we were able to capture an image. We are quietly confident we are seeing something real.

“Enough to share with technology experts who we now need and are interested in partnering with us to take this research to the next stage.”

Ultimately, the team would like to create a walk-through system that produces a high value digital image for many applications, both on and off farm. The research has been funded by NZBIDA and AgResearch’s Discovery Fund. The Discovery Fund is a pre-seed support mechanism for exploratory science. It also shares an attachment with the New Zealand Bioeconomy in the Digital Age (NZBIDA) research programme.

NZBIDA features transdisciplinary, stretchy proof-of-concept science and former Programme Director Dr Mark Shepherd said: “as an organisation we’re looking for partners to collaborate with. We’re fusing science, agriculture and technology together in a new and innovative ways. The team’s research is a good example.”

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