The Haptic Cow is a virtual reality simulator developed by Sarah Baillie, a veterinarian and computer scientist. The Haptic Cow was developed to help train veterinary students to palpate a cow's reproductive tract, to perform fertility examinations and to diagnose pregnancy. The simulator uses haptic (touch feedback) technology and has a PHANToM haptic device (from SensAble Technologies) positioned inside a fibreglass model of the rear-half of a cow. When being trained with the Haptic Cow, the student palpates computer- generated 3D virtual objects representing the uterus, ovaries, pelvis and abdominal structures. The teacher provides instruction and feedback while following the student's hand movements inside the cow on the computer monitor. The Haptic Cow is being used by several UK vet schools.
The simulator has been validated i.e. shown to be an effective teaching tool (Baillie et al , 2005, Baillie et al, 2010). Students taught with the simulator performed significantly better when examining real cows and set the task of locating the uterus than a control group i.e. skills learned in the simulated environment transferred to the real task.
Using the Haptic Cow
The Haptic Cow was first used in farm animal teaching at Glasgow in 2003 (during Sarah Baillie's PhD) and extensive feedback was gathered from students (Baillie et al , 2005). It is now in use at several vet schools in the UK.
At the Royal Veterinary College the Haptic Cow is implemented into the curriculum in several stages:
In 1st year to teach abdominal anatomy in 3D (Kinnison et al, 2009). Nearly 200 hundred students are taught over a 2 day period and each student gets a chance to feel bovine anatomy as if ‘seen’ from the tail!
In 3rd year it is used to teach the basic skills in preparation for farm animal practicals and EMS (extramural studies / workplace training). Peer tutors (students) are trained to deliver this teaching each year (Baillie et al, 2008).
There is also an automated, self-teaching, version whereby the haptic device moves the student’s hand along a pre-recorded path (an examination performed by a vet) (Baillie et al, 2010). Students can use this version on their own.
In the Farm Animal Clinical Rotation the Haptic Cow is used in a role-play exercise: the Simulated Fertility Visit (Baillie et al, 2010).
During the Simulated Fertility Visit a member of staff has the role of the ‘farmer’ and a small group of students take turns as the ‘vet’ and examine a series of virtual cows for pregnancy diagnosis and with fertility problems. The students get to ‘think on their feet’ and practise communication skills, history taking, and have to make a diagnosis and decide on the treatment or action plan. All must be delivered in a way that the ‘farmer’ understands and in real time. Scenarios include common and important ‘potential mistakes’. Students can experience the consequences of their actions in this safe trial and error environment. The Simulated Fertility Visit has proved a very popular way of using the Haptic Cow especially with regard to integrating skills.
Since April 2007, we have recorded over 3000 student sign-ins at the RVC for students using the simulator.
Watch the Haptic Cow in Action
Veterinary Haptics at the RVC http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ephvAcFeGnU
BBC video of the Haptic Cow at Cutting-edge Science