Weekly Feature



2008-04-02 / Lifestyles

Frog Dissection Leaps into the Future with Virtual Reality

S by ANDREA KIMBRIEL Reporter

Kevin Chugh, president and chief scientist at Tactus Technologies, discusses the benefits of V-Frog, the virtual reality frog dissection software his company developed. Photos by John Rusac. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Kevin Chugh, president and chief scientist at Tactus Technologies, discusses the benefits of V-Frog, the virtual reality frog dissection software his company developed. Photos by John Rusac. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com S tudents can now cut, probe and investigate the inner organs of frogs without smelly formaldehyde or sharp dissection tools.

V-Frog, a virtual reality frog dissection software developed by Tactus Technologies

in Getzville, was put on the

market earlier this year.

Kevin Chugh, president and chief scientist of Tactus Technologies, believes V-Frog offers educational advantages that dissection of a real frog cannot.

"This is a superior learning environment. We think they can do more," said Chugh, an East Aurora resident.

Users can watch a simulation of a frog's heart beating, eyes opening and tongue extending, use an endoscope to view the digestive system and view comparisons of human and frog anatomy.

Frog dissection is a good idea, but the educational effects can get lost in the chaos of the experience, said Chugh.

Kevin Chugh points out the intricate details in a virtual-reality representation of a frog's skeletal system. Kevin Chugh points out the intricate details in a virtual-reality representation of a frog's skeletal system. With V-Frog, students use a computer mouse to pick up virtual scalpels, tweezers, probes and other instruments used in dissection. They can "cut" into the frog and even remove and dispose of organs that would be discarded in a literal frog dissection. A query tool lets students click on a body part to find more information about it.

V-Frog is the first virtual reality scientific educational tool geared to the K-12 age group, said Chugh. All others are multimedia, not true virtual reality, he said.

To be virtual reality, a product most offer "a 3D environment that cognitively simulates its real world counterpart," he said. In other words - "Do you actually feel like you're doing it?"

With more than 100 sources used in its development, V-frog includes more content than a typical frog dissection manual, said Chugh. A lab report and notes for each screen are included on the software.

"One of the real values here is you can do something over and over again," he said.

With a real dissection, mistakes cannot be fixed.

If schools purchase a building license, students and teachers in that building can install the program on their home computers. Students can use the software to do homework.

About 6 million dissections are done each year, and the collection of a large number of frogs can do ecological damage, said Chugh. A number of states require an alternative to dissection be offered to students who desire it.

The software will likely prove to be cheaper for school districts, he said. The estimated cost of frogs, kits, lab manuals and disposal is $50 per student, he said. The cost per student, assuming a three year life for the V-Frog program, is $5 to $10.

V-Frog is getting attention around the world. The Helsinki Zoo in Finland was the first customer, Chugh said.

He built the original prototype, and three engineer/artists and four content people helped develop it.

The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Union Free School District will be doing an evaluation of the program this spring. Five teachers and about 350 students will participate in the process in April and early May, said Barbara Battaglia, director of instructional data, assessments and research for the district.

Half of the students will dissect an actual frog, and half will use V-Frog. They will be assessed to determine how the two options compare. The district and Tactus Technologies are partnering to study the program, she said.

Battaglia said the district is investigating alternatives for children who prefer not to do real dissection.

"We want to make sure all those choices are rigorous and will provide us with good reliable results," she said. "If we could reasonably offer choice, we would love to do it."

High school students in advanced placement biology and living environment classes will study the internal anatomy and digestive system of frogs.

Battaglia received a demonstration of V-Frog and used some of the tools herself.

"The directions were crystal clear - very easy to manipulate," she said. "It's very, very cool, and it's very realistic. I thought it would be something that engaged kids."

Battaglia doesn't believe V-Frog and dissection of actual frogs have to be mutually exclusive. She said each method may enhance the educational value of the other.

Some teachers express interest in using V-frog first to teach students how to do dissections and later have them work on real specimens, said Chugh.

The V-Frog program is advanced but user friendly, Chugh said. Students in focus groups easily figured out how to use its features.

"If you can get kids enthusiastic, they learn more. This really is a lot of fun compared to an actual dissection," he said.

Chugh said Tactus Technologies is developing other products including a pig dissection program, virtual reality forklift safety training and the Tactus Immersive Learning Environment, which would allow teachers to build virtual reality simulations for use in the classroom.

For more information, visit the Web site www.vfrog.net. V-Frog can also be purchased on www.ama zon.com.

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