Friday, November 6, 2009

Haptic Cow Teaches Vet Students Probing Techniques

"Vet School 2.0: Stick Your Hand Up a Virtual Cow Butt"
Wired Science, Wired magazine (November 6, 2009)

"There's nothing tidy about sticking your arm deep into a cow's backside, getting up to your elbows in warm and gooey bovine innards.

"But for new vet students, there's no avoiding the procedure: To diagnose pregnancy or check for infection, you've got to reach into a cow's rectum and feel for the uterus, ovaries and stomach. Unfortunately, proper palpation is a tough skill to teach, because once your arm is buried inside a cow butt, no one can see what you're doing.

"That's why veterinarian and computer scientist Sarah Baillie has created the 'Haptic Cow,' a virtual, touch-feedback device that mimics the feeling of real bovine anatomy, placed inside a fiberglass model of a cow's rear end...."

What can I say? I grew up in an area where agribusiness is a major part of the economy, and central Minnesota is home to a great many dairy farms: so the idea of spending time, up close and very personal with the south end of a north-facing cow isn't foreign to me.

I just hope that there aren't too many queasy city kids among those veterinary students.

Sarah Baillie was a veterinarian until an injury forced her to re-train in computer science. It was one of those shazam! moments - someone with a practical background as a veterinarian realizing that touch-feedback technology used to simulate human anatomy could be used to simulate the innards of a cow.

" 'It took me a long time to get it right,' Baillie said. 'It would be no underestimate to say that the code that creates the feel has been iterated on hundreds of times. But when I got it right, I knew it was right, because I've actually felt the inside of a cow many, many times.' "

Baillie's now working on a Haptic Horse and a Haptic Cat.

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