Iris scan technology for horses

Iris scan technology for horses

This revolutionary identification system may be coming soon to a horse paddock near you
Apr 01, 2011

Leg chestnuts, microchips, branding and lip tattooing of horses soon may be identification methods of the past.

Iris scanning is a 21st century system that will revolutionize the ability to simply and accurately identify horses for registries and practitioners. The iris scan cameras are currently at several large equine hospitals around the United States and in pilot projects in Ireland, Denmark and Italy.


Iris scan technology was developed during a 15-year period, beginning with research in 1996 conducted by Dan Stewart, a designer and the CEO of Iristrac LLC, and his colleagues (the intellectual property was licensed by Global Animal Management). The equine algorithm was then perfected by Sarnoff Corporation.

Photos 1-3: Iris scans showing the defined perimeters (in red) unique to each animal. This is the starting point for EyeD's algorithms to then create the 15-digit numeric identification for each horse. (Photos courtesy of Ed Kane)
EyeD is the commercial product that's scheduled to be available later this year. The image—the shape from the edge of the iris next to the pupil—is turned into an algorithm, which was developed with the help of Purdue University Industrial Technology Department, Biometrics Laboratory, around 2001 (Photos 1-3). The Purdue group had already developed a similar algorithm using satellite imagery to view the contour changes of the world's coastlines.

He began work on horse identification because of his passionate involvement in team roping. He realized that, in most cases, those horses were never registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, and there were some great performance bloodlines that had no previous methodology of identification. "I wanted to see if there was a way, for the first time in history, to simply track the performance of the team-roping horses to allow for the creation of a database to keep track of horse identification and the various parameters of awards within the sport," Stewart recalls.

When compared with other animals, the equine eye's iris shape is quite complicated, so Stewart decided to tackle horse identification first.

"With the USDA's recent concern to microchip all animals, especially horses and livestock for identification, I never wanted to do anything invasive with my horse," says Stewart. So Stewart and his colleagues settled on the iris as being the simplest form of identification. After 10 to 12 months of life, a horse's iris remains stable throughout the rest of the animal's life, and it's essentially unalterable. The iris scan technology can even get an accurate identification with as little as 60 percent of an injured eye.