Argosy Publishing has made a dream come true for students and teachers wanting an easy to use, high quality, 3D interactive anatomy atlas. And the best part of all? It’s absolutely free.
Other 3D atlases like A.D.A.M’s Interactive Anatomy ($695) and Primal Pictures’ Complete Online Human Anatomy Series ($660) don’t offer the flexibility of real time manipulation of their 3D models. The Visible Body allows you to seamlessly zoom in and out, rotate in any direction, and go directly into the body just by using your mouse. You can also add and delete systems, make systems transparent, and isolate specific structures. And to top it all off they created a very clean and simple user interface.
I had the opportunity to interview the CEO of Argosy Publishing, Andrew Bowditch, on the development, motivation behind, and future of the Visible Body.
How long did it take to complete the Visible Body?
This has been a five to six year project. We started by building models of various anatomical structures that we could then use to create animations for our clients. About two and a half years ago, we began to put the models all together and fill in the gaps. A huge challenge was to create the programming and user interface so that people could use the Visible Body as a whole and online. I wouldn’t say it is ‘complete’ — we have lots of ideas that we are working on to continually improve on it. But we felt that it is already a very useful tool, and that’s why we decided to release it publicly now.
Is there a team dedicated to completing the Visible Body or do your employees work on it alongside other projects?
We have a core team that is mostly dedicated to Visible, but occasionally some of them work on other things to help pay our bills. But it took an enormous amount of effort and dedication to get Visible Body to where it is now — definitely not a part time side project.
Currently the Visible Body can only be viewed on Internet Explorer on Windows, when can we expect to see the Visible Body across all platforms?
We are about to start working on a Mac version of the Visible Body. It is hard to say how long this will take, because it is going to require a whole new round of intensive programming, and we know from experience that it takes a lot of innovation, hard work, and trial and error to get such a complex program on the web. That being said, we want everybody to be able to use the Visible Body, and that includes everyone who can’t now due to platform incompatibility. We are dedicated to ultimately making this product platform-neutral.
Another prominent blogger asked “I can imagine a lot of uses for such a tool, but if the free tool is everything the video claims, I can’t help but wonder why it is free. Is it just a very expensive (and cool) way to publicize what Argosy can do?” With that said, what was the motivation behind making the Visible Body free?
No, it is not a publicity tool — although it does showcase the talent we have here in this company. We decided to make this free primarily because we wanted to spread the word as quickly as possible about Visible Body. We envision this as becoming THE standard online anatomy learning tool, period. It is a heck of a lot easier to get exposure and use when you offer something for free. Of course, we do need to make money on this eventually since we haven’t made a penny yet, but there are a lot of ways to do so while still keeping the fundamental product free to all and without compromising the user experience. Some of our revenue-generating options are: customizing the Visible Body for various companies and organizations; selling ad space; and publishing labs and other learning kits based on the Visible Body. And probably other ways we haven’t yet explored. But I want to emphasize that it is extremely important to us that the integrity of the free product and the user’s experience of it isn’t blemished by anything we do in the future, so don’t expect pop-up ads or branded body parts.
How much do you plan on expanding it?
Right now what you are seeing is essentially a professional version of the Visible Body. It is mainly targeted at medical practitioners, students, and other people involved in health care. It is a very sophisticated tool that is built for people with some knowledge of anatomy and who are very comfortable on the Internet. Down the road, however, we are planning on releasing a consumer version as well. One example of how it will be different is how the search engine will work. Currently, if you search for the ‘knee’ the program won’t bring you there; you need to search for ‘patella.’ The consumer version will allow users to type in commonly used words to find what they are seeking. Further down the road, we would like to see Visible Body become something like a home page for a person’s health, where they could not only learn about matters related to their health, but also keep track of their own health and medical history.
Another way that we plan to expand is by offering content around physiology, pathologies, and treatment. We want the Visible Body to serve as a jumping-off point in understanding not just how the human body is put together, but also how it works, what can go wrong, and how it can be fixed. The underpinning philosophy of the Visible Body is that people learn best with visual tools, so this content would be comprised of animations and other intensively visual aids.
In terms of the professional version, there is still work to be done there in the shorter term. We are in the process of making the Visible Body compatible with the entire anatomy curriculum. Right now the product is fully compatible with many A & P textbooks, but not all. We need to fill in the missing pieces. We are also working to make it compatible with the Gross Anatomy curriculum with a more regional approach.
Will there eventually be a way for users to track their progress completing systems, quizzes, tutorials, etc?
Absolutely. We believe that the Visible Body will be an outstanding teaching and learning tool, and we want to develop this potential to the utmost. Some of the ancillary learning pieces will be free and others probably will not, but our goal is to allow every student learning about the human body the opportunity to more effectively learn using the Visible Body.
Do you plan on doing any research or tracking how students use the Visible Body as a supplement to their anatomy education? It will be interesting to see how effective it is, considering there is not a lot of literature out there on the effectiveness of such interactive programs.
Yes. We are currently in discussions with a major medical school to do just that. I can’t name them since we’re still in discussions, but we are hopeful that this university will be the first of many to help us all understand the best ways to use this new tool in teaching and learning.
Do you plan on making a multi-lingual version for international students?
Definitely. This is actually one of the easier ways to expand the product, because it involves only text, not the actual model or any programming around it.
And finally, do you think that more medical illustration and animation companies will follow your lead and start creating their own educational resources?
We firmly believe that electronic and interactive learning is the future of anatomy studies, and that many others will come to that realization, if they haven’t already. That being said, it is hard to imagine many other firms being able to build something as complex as the Visible Body. First of all, you need an elite group of medical visualization and bioinformatics experts. There simply aren’t that many people in this field who can do what we do on the level that is necessary for an outstanding product. Second of all, you need pedagogic expertise to be able to present the content in a way that is logical, comprehensible, and accurate. Third of all, there is a ton of very intensive programming involved. And finally, you need lots of time and resources to pull it all together, with the bioinformatics experts, the pedagogic experts, and the programmers all on the same page. There aren’t a lot of organizations that could pull this off. Visible Body has the advantage of being the first one out of the gate, and everyone else, besides having to overcome the challenges I just talked about, would have the additional challenge of playing catch-up.
As you can see the Visible Body is still a work in progress. Once completed, the Visible Body has the potential to become the most powerful anatomy tool on the Internet.
I’d like to thank Andrew for taking the time to answer my questions!
Note: I’m in no way affiliated with Argosy or the Visible Body.