The way vets analyse animal behaviour could be revolutionised thanks to a piece of computer technology that will assess what animals are thinking and feeling.
A software program called the Horse Automated Behaviour Identification Tool (HABIT) will assess amateur video footage to identify behaviour. It has the potential to support the diagnostic process and inform the selection of treatment, or recommended changes to welfare and management.
The emerging scientific discipline of animal-computer interaction (ACI) looks at the relationship between animals and technology. Human-computer interaction is well-established.
Horses initial focus
Steve North, a research fellow in the mixed reality laboratory (MRL) at the University of Nottingham, is developing the software, which he hopes will be able to be used in research settings, farms, zoos, practices and at home. The project is initially focusing on horses, but it may be used to assess other animals in the future.
“This project is important because horses are unable to vocalise for themselves what behavioural problems they may be experiencing,” Dr North said.
“Hopefully, vets, vet nurses, owners and researchers will be able to use this tool to analyse and learn more about horse behaviour generally.”
One of the challenges for the team is existing video-based behaviour identification technology has mainly been used in controlled environments, such as filming animals in a pen, meaning the background does not change, making it easier to spot behaviours and movements.
However, once the tool is fully developed, it is hoped vets and owners will be able to film animals in their own, unconstrained environment, process the video on an “off-the-shelf” computer and see an assessment on-screen.
Dr North said: “It has the potential to revolutionise the way vets analyse animal behaviour, but I want to make it clear we are at a research level at the moment.”
- Read more about the HABIT project in the 1 August issue of Veterinary Times.