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Surgery in virtual reality: How VR could give trainee doctors the feel of real patients

Virtual reality is often touted as a way of creating fantasy universes, but it could also turn out to be an effective way of teaching skills that are hard to practice in the real world.

Take training up the doctors of tomorrow, for example. US university Case Western has already announced it plans to do away with its anatomy labs, and the cadavers that go with them, and teach medical students with Microsoft’s HoloLens ‘mixed reality’ system instead. Aspiring doctors will be able to wear HoloLens headsets, and view the different layers of a body — skin, muscle, blood vessels, and so on — in 3D.

But going one step further, one UK company is trying to recreate the hands-on aspects of surgery in a VR setting, allowing students to get a sense of how the human body feels in using haptic feedback.

Fundamental VR, based in London and Guildford, has added a haptics element to virtual reality to allow medics to train without having to test out their nascent skills on an actual patient.

The system combines the HoloLens headset and the company’s software with a stylus connected to a standard-issue mechanical arm.

The stylus appears as a syringe in the VR world the wearer sees, with one button to empty the syringe, and another to refill it.

Moving the stylus in the real world moves the syringe in the simulation, and when the virtual needle meets the virtual skin, flesh, or bone, the varying resistance of the material is transmitted through the stylus to the user, giving them a powerful facsimile of a real-live body.

The idea is that encountering different elements of the body — like fat or bone — should feel very different.

By Jo Best | ZDNet

Image Credit: Fundamental VR

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