Sticking your fist up a cow's posterior isn't the most appetizing idea in the world. For new students of veterinary medicine, though, it's an unavoidable procedure. And educator Sarah Baillie put together the best tool to teach it.
Called the Haptic Cow, it's a fiberglass model of a cow's rear end, with parts that feel real and respond to touch. According to Baillie, "students can feel something" similar to what's inside an actual cow when you penetrate it from the backside. That way, they get the full tactile experience of performing a proper palpation without having to experiment on the real thing.
Using Baillie's veterinary and computer science background, she hooked up the "robotic half-cow" to a computerized system, with hand movements inside the posterior shown on a display screen. This allows instructors to monitor what the students are doing, guiding them as they work on those extra-sensitive body parts.
Inside, the Haptic Cow uses touch-feedback devices from SensAble Technologies to realistically mimic various anatomical parts, including the uterus, ovaries and stomach. The computer controls the amount of force the organs return when they are touched, which depends largely on the scenario being taught - soft when touching a healthy pregnant uterus and doughy when the animal is infected.
Time to cue the bestiality jokes? It's unavoidable, of course, despite being absolutely inappropriate. Regardless, the device is finding wide adoption and is now used by over half of veterinary colleges in the UK. The 2009 Times Higher Education Awards, in fact, declared that it's “possibly the most significant innovation in veterinary education in the past 50 years.”