COLUMBIA — Kevin Keegan looks at a tiny black cube-shaped gadget with pride. It has helped horses all over the world.
More than six years ago, Keegan launched Equinosis, a company that creates devices to detect and measure lameness in horses.
Today, Equinosis may be the leading company worldwide in making and selling products to veterinarians that address equine lameness. The driving force is Keegan, professor and director of the E. Paige Laurie Endowed Program in Equine Lameness at MU.
According to Keegan, lameness is the most common clinical condition in horses. He and a team of colleagues developed the lameness locator as an objective method of detection.
Using small body-mounted inertial sensors, Keegan can measure lameness among horses in a field. This method gives veterinarians more specific information about the condition, instead of the standard subjective method of watching the movement and performance of a horse.
The sensors are sold through Equinosis, which has been licensed by MU to market and further develop the technology.
"I really had no intention on making a product to sell," Keegan said. "I just wanted to use it."
Equinosis products have been used on more than 1,000 horses since the company was launched in 2007, according to Keegan.
"There are 140 systems in use," he said. "Each system perhaps has been used a few hundred times on horses."
Keegan said the system is now used in about half of the veterinary schools in the country and in every continent except Antarctica.
"We now offer online and on-site training sessions for which veterinarians can get continuing education credit," Keegan said.
Currently, Equinosis is routinely selling third-generation small body-mounted inertial sensors that can be placed on the horse's head, pelvis and right front leg.
Fourth-generation sensors are being manufactured and pre-sold, and a fifth-generation sensor with additional improvements is being tested. According to Keegan, the fifth-generation sensors will be smaller and more robust, as well as waterproof.
Additional research is taking the device in new directions.
"We're also now measuring the rider, and we use that to adjust the signals because we know the rider affects the exhibition of lameness," Keegan said.
The average price for the system is $15,000 to $18,000, which includes two sets of wireless sensors, two sensor charging stations, a tablet PC preloaded with the necessary software and a hard-shell travel case.
According to Keegan, the primary engine now funding the development of the products is the the National Science Foundation. Additional funds have been raised from private investors.