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Virtual Surgery Aims to Replace Risky Training

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A new haptically enabled computer simulation system is undergoing clinical trials at Cork University Hospital in Ireland and Pecs University in Hungary. The virtual-reality technology could potentially be used by medical students and physicians to practice risky procedures, rather than having them perform such operations on a live patient.

The Medical Competency Assessment Procedure (MedCAP) project, funded by the European Union, focuses on spinal procedure injuries. Erik Lovquist, a researcher at Limerick University's Interactive Design Center, worked with doctors to develop the simulation system. The device features a tilted eye-level, three-dimensional computer screen with a mirror beneath it, and the haptic feedback unit is placed below the mirror. The device tracks position and orientation with six degrees of freedom using embedded sensors, and provides feedback forces in three degrees of freedom using motors programmed for different surface tension, friction, and viscosity.

Lovquist developed algorithms for controlling the movement of the motors to accurately provide feedback simulating a spinal needle meeting and puncturing the skin, and digging deeper into tissue, ligaments, cerebrospinal fluid, and the tough outer layer of the meninges surrounding the spinal cord. Punctures that go too far and enter the other meninges or the spinal cord itself would produce a different sensation and result in on-screen error messages.

From The Engineer (United Kingdom)
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