Report on the thermography workshop





Report on the thermography workshop 6th September 2018


Written by Helena Telkänranta


The AWRN workshop “Infrared thermography in the study of animal emotions, physiology and health” took place on 6 September 2018 at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. The workshop was organised as a collaboration between University of Bristol and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). Planning and organising were carried out by Helena Telkänranta from Bristol and by Malcolm Mitchell and Marianne Farish from SRUC, with additional support from Poppy Statham of AWRN. A group of SRUC research technicians assisted with practical arrangements on the day. A total of 30 delegates had registered for the workshop, two of which had to cancel due to health issues. Most of the delegates were from the UK, but there also were two delegates from Austria, one from Ireland and one from Portugal. Most were researchers or PHD students in various fields of animal welfare, but there also were a few delegates from the government and from industry.

The aim of the workshop was to provide the participants with in-depth understanding on how thermography works and what is the current state of development of thermographic methods that can be used in animal welfare research. These topics were further elaborated into how to successfully plan thermographic experiments, and what will be needed to realise the oft-touted immense potential of thermography for animal welfare: which are the steps that have to be taken in order to bridge the wide gulf from the current stag – at which most of the methodology is at a very early stage of fundamental research – to a future in which novel applications for animal welfare research and monitoring actually would exist?

In planning the structure and content of the day, the guiding principle was to try and help the delegates to learn as much as possible on topics useful to them, whether they were newcomers to thermography or already had experience in using it. Selection of invited speakers was based on their ability to cover the essential topics broadly enough and yet also in depth. Contents of the talks, allocation of who will cover which details and ensuring all the necessary basics were covered in proportion to their importance, were discussed among the speakers beforehand on email and Skype.

The day was structured to comprise three parts: talks, practical sessions and a general discussion. The six talks formed a path from theory to current research to future potential. In the selection of topics, there was a special emphasis on types of information for which there usually is not enough time in conference talks and other types of information that are normally available to researchers. One of these, which was a cross-cutting theme in the first four talks, was providing an in-depth understanding of what the camera really does and how to minimize sources of errors, which are plentiful and come as a surprise to many during their first thermographic studies. Another crucial but seldom explored topic was the future steps required to realise the oft-mentioned great potential for developing novel research and monitoring techniques. This was done in the two last talks by exploring examples of how it has been done with other similar technologies that are further ahead in the path of developing animal welfare applications.

The first talk “How does thermal imaging work and to what extent can it be used to measure emotions?” was given by Helena Telkänranta from Bristol. The talk covered the basic physics of how thermography works, which factors influence the resulting thermal images and how to plan a successful physical setup for a thermographic experiment. The talk also included an overview on the current, very early stage of development in thermographic methodology to measure animal emotions.

The second talk, “Measuring physiological processes with thermal imaging”, by Malcolm Mitchell from SRUC, was an in-depth look into thermal physiology of animals and to the complexity of physiological factors affecting the surface temperatures that thermal cameras are measuring. The talk helped dispel several misconceptions common among those who are new to thermography, such as the assumption that skin temperature would be a reliable measure of body temperature.

The third talk, “Thermal imaging in stress research on birds” by Dorothy McKeegan from the University of Glasgow, gave an example of how the above is used in fundamental research that can later enable development of animal welfare applications. McKeegan presented findings by her group in chickens and in wild blue tits, showing e.g. how the pattern of eye temperature change over time differs depending on the type of stressors, and discussing methodological lessons learned during the studies.

After a coffee break, the topics proceeded from fundamental research to development of practical animal welfare applications, starting with the talk “Veterinary applications of thermal imaging in cats and dogs”. It was given by Mari Vainionpää, head veterinarian of Veterinary Clinic Askel in Finland, who has a research background at the University of Helsinki. She reviewed the literature on current methods for using thermography as an aid for diagnostics, gave an overview of past and current developments in the field and discussed the requirements for reliable thermography in clinical settings.

The next talk proceeded from the present to the next steps needed in near future. Titled “Algorithm development for thermal image analysis”, it was given by Mark Hansen from the Centre for Machine Vision, which is a joint venture between Bristol University and University of Western England. He outlined the main steps needed in algorithm development for thermal image analysis, which has considerable potential for speeding up the commonly used and very slow manual data extraction procedures, and about similar applications in other fields of machine vision that we can learn from.

The final talk, “How to succeed in developing on-farm practical applications: Examples from other technologies”, threw light onto the next steps needed in the future: how to proceed from algorithm development to applications incorporating the necessary new technology. The talk was given by Thomas Norton, a tenure-track assistant professor in Precision Livestock Farming at KU Leuven in Belgium. Using the development of an automated pig cough detection and interpretation system as an example, he highlighted the challenges and solutions on a trajectory from research to practical on-farm applications.

After lunch, it was time for some fresh air. The delegates were taken onto the research farm, where three stations with practical demonstrations had been prepared to further illustrate the morning’s topics. The delegates were divided into three groups, visiting each of the three stations in turn. At the first station, Malcolm Mitchell took the delegates deeper into the physics of thermography, illustrating with objects ranging from a balloon to a plastic cow as to what are the similarities and differences between thermal imaging and ordinary photography and why. At the second station, Marianne Farish showed with a litter of young suckling piglets what their normal thermoregulatory processes look like in thermal images and how the piglets’ apparent surface temperature depends on ambient temperature and other external conditions. At the third station among beef cattle, Helena Telkänranta and Mari Vainionpää illustrated changes in thermal images caused by varying length of hair, specks of dirt and droplets of water. With the help of a fan, a radiator and one of the technicians, they also demonstrated how air currents and nearby heat sources affect skin temperature in thermal images.

Each demonstration included different types of thermal cameras, from cheap low-resolution models to various kinds of science cameras, that the delegates could try out and see the differences in practice. There also was time for questions and discussion, with many aha! moments seen in this tangible hands-on setting. A group of SRUC research technicians in with the practical arrangements at the stations and by guiding the delegates throughout the practical session.

Back in the lecture hall for an afternoon coffee, after which the day was concluded with a 45-minute general discussion. The six speakers answered delegates’ questions and discussed the steps needed to further advance the field.

Judging by the delegates’ faces throughout the workshop, and by the warms thanks and praise we were getting after the workshop, the planning and preparations had paid off and a general feeling among the delegates seemed to be they had gained new and useful knowledge to help plan their future studies. As usual in AWRN events, the day also had provided an opportunity to network with other researchers, learning about one another’s projects and perhaps starting new collaborations in the future.

Video footage of the presentations given at this workshop are now available on the Members only section of the website. Simply log in and click on the "Meeting Presentations" title. Please note that due to technical issues with the data projector, the video footage includes a moving interference pattern. Please take care watching these videos if you are susceptible to migraines or epilepsy.