(June 22, 2022) Media Interview by Sing Tao Daily on
CityU's AR Veterinary Teaching System and models

CityU's AR Veterinary Teaching System and models help in training palpation, nurturing skills and avoiding injury

Taking care of animals is the daily work of veterinarians, but animals are not like human beings in terms of indicating their illnesses, and veterinary students can be injured by animals at any time by palpation. The Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of City University of Hong Kong, in cooperation with the School of Creative Media, developed an augmented reality (AR) teaching system, supplemented by a real-scale animal model, to help train students to palpate animals under safe conditions. Professor Vanessa Barrs, Associate Dean, pointed out that the new system prevents students from being injured by animals, and at the same time accurately understands the location and feel of organs, and teachers can observe and provide advice.

Veterinarians need to rely on touch for animal diagnosis to feel whether there is any abnormality in animal organs. However, animals often resist being touched by strangers. Dr Rebecca Parkes, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, pointed out that there are opportunities for veterinary students to palpate real animals in the classroom, but some students are also afraid to palpate the animals because they are worried about the discomfort of the animals, and even because they have been injured.

Use as soon as next school year

In order to solve the problem, College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences and the School of Creative Media have jointly developed an AR teaching system. The system must be used with full-scale animal models, organ models and AR glasses.

Cat is the first model developed for the system. The organ model is based on the computer-scanned images of the cats raised by Parkes. When using the system, the organ model can be placed in the cat model, and AR glasses can be used to "see through" the position and bones of the organs, allowing students to compare the position and touch of the organs. Teachers can also wear glasses when students practice palpation to provide immediate advice.

Parkes pointed out that some studies have shown that using models first in teaching allows students to practice, which can help students become familiar with skills, reduce the pressure of students' practical operation, and help students learn anatomy. Barrs hopes that the model will help students familiarize themselves with skills before touching animals. "After all, horses can kick people and cats can bite people." It will be easier to palpate animals in the future, while avoiding excessive discomfort to the animals. The AR teaching system was funded by the Office of the Vice-President (Research and Technology) of CityU with a grant of $500,000 in July last year. There are still a few months before the actual teaching use. Barrs hopes to improve the cat model first, and then develop other animal models in the future. In the future, she will make organ models of sick cats, such as animals with renal failure, and the kidneys will be severely contracted. "I hope that after training students to palpate healthy cats, they can also train students to feel the disease."

3D printing diseased organs

In the future, they will conduct computer scans of some diseased animals and 3D print them according to the proportion of diseased organs. Wang Qiaochu, a doctoral student at the School of Creative Media who participated in the research and development, pointed out that some system problems are still being corrected, and other modes will be added in the future, including computer scanning, allowing users to observe computer-scanned images of different parts of animals through AR glasses. CityU's College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences was established in 2014, and the Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine programme offered JUPAS for the first time in 2019. Thirty places will be offered this year for students to enrol in JUPAS or non-JUPAS.

(top) After wearing the AR glasses, the user can "see through" the model to understand the position of the animal's organs, so as to compare the organs and their tactile sensations.
(bottom) Vanessa Barrs (right) expects the AR system to help students practice palpation, and also allow teachers to understand the learning situation. Next to them are Rebecca Parkes (left) and Wang Qiaochu.