Science

Augmented reality gives surgeons a virtual look at real-world organs during operations

Image Credit: Fraunhofer MEVIS

As augmented reality technology improves, you’re going to see it in use everywhere — including the operating room.

German research institute Fraunhofer MEVIS has created an app that lets surgeons use the iPad as a real-time viewfinder during surgeries. Not only does the app let doctors better plan their operations, but it also gives them digital overlays of key blood vessels.

This is a huge development for doctors, who often have to memorize the exact locations of blood vessels in an effort to avoid them. Switching over to an augmented reality-based system like this one means they no longer have to do that — which could save lives.

But while the idea here is impressive, it’s tough not to see the process as anything but clunky. Because a surgeon can’t hold an iPad and operate at the same time, using the app requires both another pair of hands and someone with enough fortitude to hold an iPad up during long and difficult surgeries.

The most obvious solution for this is an augmented reality-based system that relies on hands-free devices like Google Glass. While Fraunhofer MEVIS doesn’t seem to be working on something like that, it does have teams looking at ways to project surgery planning data directly onto organs. It’s also working on systems that would let surgeons use hand gestures to accomplish certain tasks.

While all of that’s probably a ways off, Fraunhofer MEVIS’s current system has already been used in one liver cancer operation, which Reuters has recounted in all of its graphic detail.

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