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Kinect: a surgical revolution?

27 Jun, 12 | by BMJ

Following on from a previous post exploring video games in health care, one gaming technology in particular has generated a lot of interest in the past few months. Kinect, the motion sensing input device by Microsoft, enables users to control and interact with their computer without the need to touch a game controller.

Last month, Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital began trials of a new device that uses a Kinect camera to sense body position. Just by moving his arms, a surgeon can consult and sort through medical images, such as CT scans or real-time X-rays, whilst operating.

Maintaining a sterile environment in the operating room is of utmost importance but scrubbing in and out to sift through images mid-operation can be protracted and break concentration. To avoid leaving the table, many surgeons rely on assistants to control the computer on their behalf, which can prove a distracting and frustrating process.

“Up until now, I’d been calling out across the room to one of our technical assistants, asking them to manipulate the image, rotate one way, rotate the other, pan up, pan down, zoom in, zoom out,” says Tom Carrell, a consultant vascular surgeon, who led an operation to repair an aneurism in a patient’s aorta. With the Kinect, he says, “I had very intuitive control”.

The refinements from gaming technology to complex surgery have been developed by Microsoft Research, with support from Lancaster University. This trial will soon be extended to other centres and other types of surgery.

Early diagnosis of autism

Surgery is not the only area of medicine where Kinect developers have been experimenting. The unusual set up at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development in Minneapolis is designed to look for signs of behavioural disorders. The plan is to find out if Kinect, combined with computer-vision algorithms trained to detect behavioural abnormalities, can be used to automate the early diagnosis of autism.

To find out if a computer can automate all or part of this process, a nursery was fitted with five Kinect sensors, set to monitor a group of 3-5 year old children. Each child was tracked by the colours they were wearing, and their movement patterns were fed into a bank of computers that would use an algorithm to recognise if they were being hyperactive or unusually still (indicators of possible autism).

While Kinect might not be the greatest way to play video games, the technology is certainly providing developers with new scope for experimentation. For more information on how other disciplines, such as architecture and archaeology, are taking advantage of this technology, take a look at the  ‘Kinect Hacks‘ website.

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