Environment & Engineering

New magnet technology leads to smaller, more portable MRI system

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While Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the gold standard in medical practice for non-invasive tissue imaging, existing devices are large, expensive to make and require patients to lie down—with their entire body enclosed—during the scanning procedure. This often leads to patients experiencing claustrophobia and anxiety.

To help solve the problem, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Robinson Research Institute has utilised the high temperature superconductor (HTS) expertise they are world-renowned for, to design a cryogen-free, HTS magnet for brain imaging that is radically smaller—and less energy-intensive—than those used in existing MRI solutions.

The magnet is so compact that it is being used in a project to develop a highly novel MRI brain imaging system where the shoulders are completely outside the system—and features an opening for the patient to see out of to reduce feelings of claustrophobia.

Robinson is part of the project consortium—which is led by the internationally acclaimed Centre for Magnetic Resonance Research at the University of Minnesota, and funded by the US National Institutes of Health—aiming to make MRI brain imaging more accessible. By moving it away from the confines of large imaging suites to essentially anywhere with electrical power, brain imaging is expected to become far more widely available.

Wellington UniVentures has helped Robinson to patent and commercialise the brain imaging magnet since its invention and supported their commercialisation activities.

Features and Benefits


The highly compact brain imaging system is small enough to be transported and used anywhere with electrical power, e.g. within Emergency Departments to immediately diagnose brain injuries.

Improved patient experience

The inclusion of a patient window through the system and the ability to sit upright for brain imaging, both ensure a better user experience—especially for people who are claustrophobic or anxious.

Low power, high-quality images

While the magnet solution draws less power and weighs a fraction of traditional versions—which can be upwards of four tonnes—the images from the compact system are clinical-quality.

Next Steps

With the magnet technology in place, the project team engaged Te Herenga Waka’s School of Design on a commercial basis—thanks to KiwiNet funding organised by Wellington UniVentures—to work on the design and user experience of the device.

Following numerous design prototypes, usability tests with participants and MRI experts, a full-scale prototype was built.

The award-winning final design system consists of a movable chair that positions the user correctly inside the magnet bore, which can be controlled by the patient or technician with a remote control.

The design also won third place in the ‘Notable’ award category at the Core77 International Design Awards—one of the biggest design awards in the world, with entrants from professional design companies and organisations such as Microsoft and Google.


For more information on the magnet technology behind the portable MRI system, or the system itself, please contact the Commercialisation Manager below.

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Adam Podmore

Senior Commercialisation Manager

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