Scientists from the University of Alberta have unveiled ProjectDR, technology that uses augmented reality (AR) to display medical images such as CT and MRI scans directly onto a patient’s body.
The system, developed by graduate students Ian Watts and Michael Feist, uses infrared cameras, markers on the patient’s body and a projector to move the images in tandem with the patient.
“Soon we’ll deploy ProjectDR in an operating room in a surgical simulation laboratory to test the pros and cons in real-life surgical applications,” said Pierre Boulanger, professor in the university’s Department of Computer Science and Cisco Chair in Healthcare Solutions, who supervised the graduates’ research.
ProjectDR is one of the most ambitious and versatile AR projects in healthcare. It can present what the university calls ‘segmented images – for example, only the lungs or only the blood vessels’, allowing clinicians to observe particular elements of the patient’s body.
Greg Kawchuk, of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and another supervisor on the project commented on the future of the software: “We are also doing pilot studies to test the usability of the system for teaching chiropractic and physical therapy procedures.”
This is not the first use of AR in medical technology; in 2014, the Melbourne office of innovation company Small World conducted a trial with the Australian Breastfeeding Association to use Google Glass to give doctors the same perspective as breastfeeding mothers, to help them give advice. AccuVein is a projector that visualises a patient’s veins onto their skin, leading to 81% of nurses reporting an improved ability to cannulate since the tool’s release in 2009.
In 2017, London startup Touch Surgery, which was founded by two former surgeons, raised $20 million from the backers of Facebook’s Oculus headset to launch a modified Microsoft Hololens headset, called Go Surgery. The headset is intended as a training tool, and would show students a live feed of a professional surgeon operating, alongside step-by-step instructions projected in front of them.