Every operation presents a challenge for the surgeon. After all, they bear the responsibility for the successful outcome of the procedure. Technical aides have long been indispensable in ensuring ultimate precision and reducing risks during an operation.
Today, there are limits to the precision of current instruments. This can lead to misjudgments resulting in complications during surgery. Not only do these endanger patient health, but they also lead to high costs due to expensive follow-up operations.
To minimize such risks, Microsoft has developed a mixed reality pair of smart glasses called HoloLens. They enable surgeons to view CT and MRI imaging of the patient in 3D during the operation. The digital images are generated from the original CT or MRI scans and loaded into the mixed reality headset.
A comprehensive digital representation then appears. Complete with all the anatomical structures which can then be freely positioned in the user’s field of vision. The real-life environment of the user remains completely visible at all times, presenting a big advantage over virtual reality.
The goal has been to create a smart synthesis between the live operation situation and the digital representation. This way, the surgeon can use the mixed reality application to place the highly accurate 3D model within the surgical site.
This fusion enables previously unattainable levels of precision in the representation of anatomical structures. With its mixed reality application, Hololens has developed a revolutionary digital process that might become a staple of the operating theater.
What is HoloLens?
Hololens is a mixed reality headset designed and developed by Microsoft.
Conceptually it is a wearable computer based on the Windows 10 platform. The unit has a computing capacity comparable to that of a laptop. It does not require cables to connect to the PC or other devices, so it works autonomously.
Inside, next to the processor and graphics accelerator, there is a third chip called Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) which is the real news. Its function is to recognize the surrounding environment and create a hologram in real time. The headset has built-in smart glasses that can display holograms in the real world.
The headset is defined by Microsoft as a “holographic computer”. It was designed by believing that “holograms are the future in the evolution of information technology”. The device gives user the possibility to be hands-free, making Hololens a wearable device to carry out everyday tasks, from the simplest to the most complex.
HoloLens’ Mixed Reality
The HoloLens headset/smart glasses creates a sort of new experience, called mixed reality. You can call it a middle point, an intersection, between augmented reality and virtual reality. When concluding briefly, virtual reality projects the user in a parallel world, isolating it from reality. Augmented reality on the other hand, allows the user to be present in real world. Information and digital contents are added on top of your vision of the world.
But HoloLens does something more – it creates digital objects, called holograms. Making them part of the physical world almost without making the user aware of the difference between real and virtual. These objects appear to be part of the real world. users can treat the objects as if they are really there.
Although augmented reality and the mixed reality may seem the same, they actually have distinct characteristics. The first is an overlay of contents in the real world. These contents are digital information such as photos, videos or GPS data and are not anchored to the real world. A limitation of augmented reality is that the displayed contents are not able to interact with objects of the real world.
Mixed reality, on the other hand, allows the user to view virtual 3D objects and exceeds the limit of augmented reality by allowing these contents to interact in real time with the objects of the world around us.
In short, mixed reality takes the best of augmented reality and virtual reality and promises to become a platform with an important impact, at least in the professional world.
HoloLens has opened up radically new frontiers especially for medicine. It is able to project the human body (in full size) in front of doctors, making surgeries easier and more successful. HoloLens can revolutionize surgical procedures by providing huge gains for precision, error prevention, and quality control.
HoloLens Helps Surgeons To Rebuild Traumatized Limbs
To demonstrate an already operative application, Microsoft has brought us to the surgical experimentation area of the Imperial College University Hospital. At the hospital, a multidisciplinary team of researchers has developed a solution that is used to support plastic and reconstructive surgery of traumatized, injured, or partially torn limbs.
Most of the time these interventions require transplantation of tissues, including skin, from other parts of the body. They replace portions of limbs lost due to trauma, gunshots and other accidents. The challenge for surgeons in these cases is to be able to identify the passage of the blood vessels. This is necessary to connect the implanted tissue and make it sufficiently vascularized.
The process starts at least half an hour before the operation (which is carried out urgently). It all begins with the radiologist who performs the CT scan and other diagnostic test. The results are fed to the software that processes the 3D model of the limb in question. Software then processes not only the “outline” of the model, but also of the whole internal structure, and in particular of the blood vessels.
Consequently, the model obtained is then loaded onto HoloLens. The team (preparing to do the surgery) can then first look at the limb in 3D with all the visible vessels and plan the operation. After that, the surgeon in the OR, superimposes the 3D virtual model onto the real limb with gestures (which are recognized by the camera system).
This enables to have elements in 1:1 scale to trace the points where to intervene and intercept the ideal vessels for the vascularization of the so-called “skin flap” to be implanted. Once the points in which to intervene on the patient’s skin have been drawn, the surgeon removes the Hololens and proceeds in a conventional manner. Now, however with the precision of the perfect overlap of the points of access/incision.
HoloLens’ opportunity for medicine students
There are already many universities worldwide which plan to bring this technology into classrooms and laboratories. The idea is to help teach students with a new innovative approach.
HoloLens opens new ways to learn and study. It can project the full size of the human body in 3D right in front of med students. In this manner, students will be able to walk around anatomical bodies to see how bones, muscles, and organs work without resorting to cadavers.
Furthermore, future medical professionals will be able to analyze their shape and remember their characteristics more vividly than it is possible when studying from a book. This will quite certainly improve student’s ability to learn better and with more confidence. By creating simulations that let students fail without any real damage is the best way to learn. For obvious reasons, doctors are not allowed to fail too much in real life medicine. HoloLens will most likely impact many of the ways students are taught in university.
Pearson, one of the major publishers of academic textbooks used by students and teachers worldwide, has announced that it will partner with Microsoft HoloLens in hopes to solve challenges in areas of learning.
In response, the general manager of HoloLens Experiences has released a statement in regards to his appreciation for the collaboration, in which he said: “We are thrilled to partner with Pearson to expand the curriculum available to students to learn through the power of holograms on Microsoft HoloLen. Complex systems are more easily understood in 3D. HoloLens gives students access to things they may never be able to see in real life – historical artifacts, natural history, hands-on training, and a connection to the broader world.”
There is no doubt about HoloLens’ place in healthcare and education. It has already proven to be a successful product. It’s not used only for medical applications as we’ve discussed so far but for a wide array of professional fields. For example, NASA uses it to design the missions to Mars, ThyssenKrupp uses it to the repair its lifts, and Japan Airlines to train technicians.
HoloLens has developed a truly revolutionary digital process with all of its mixed reality applications that will become a mainstay of the future world. This is a further step forward for Microsoft, for mixed reality platforms and for a vast array of professional fields.
HoloLens has shown that anytime you can change the way that you see things, it changes the way you understand them. And as soon as you can change your understanding, you can change the way you see the world.
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