Touchless technology for surgery?

Surgeons in London, England at St. Thomas Hospital are currently testing out a new “touchless” form of surgery that uses hand gestures over a screen, similar to video game technology.

The interactive system on trial combines a Kinect gesture-based technology and voice command, allowing the computer used for delicate keyhole surgery to respond to both the surgeons voice and hand movements.

The technology was most recently used in vascular surgery, where it allowed surgeons to see and manipulate 3D images of the damaged artery as they were repairing it.

In practice, the surgeon stands with his arms raised, and issues commands to a Kinect sensor located under a monitor that shows the patient’s damaged aorta. Using hand gestures he can zoom in and out, lock, rotate and pan across images.

The system allows doctors to avoid risking contamination by using a conventional keyboard and mouse during the operation. The direct control also allows the surgeon to focus in on the technical details of the operation with greater ease.

Testing surgeon Tom Carrell told BBC, “Until recently I was shouting out across the operating theatre to tell someone to go up, down, left right. But with the Kinect I’m able to get the position that I want quickly – and also without me having to handle non-sterile things like a keyboard or mouse during the procedure. The sensitivity is the main thing, but it’s very simple gestures, like on a smart-phone. Once you know the gestures it’s very intuitive.”

Many experts feel this technology will become the norm in operating rooms within the next 15 years, as surgeons are becoming more and more reliant on 3D images when performing delicate surgeries.

Microsoft Research took on the task of refining the original technology from a gaming system to complex surgery, with help from Lancaster University.

Helen Mantis from Microsoft Research told BBC about the challenges surgeons currently face that they are trying to address with this new technology. “In something like a surgical theatre we’re interested in a very constrained area. You have surgeons and scrub nurses that are all very close to one another. You have a patient in front of you. You don’t have the ability to reach up and reach out as far because you’re sterile. You can’t touch anything that’s not already sterile,” she said.

The trial will soon be open to other hospitals and different forms of surgery.

Sources: BBC, Allvoices

Photo © Campbell

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