Gaming technology makes hands-free surgery possible

What started out as a fun project using Microsoft’s Kinect technology for University of Waterloo graduate Jamie Tremaine has recently undergone a successful test run in a hands-free operating room environment at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.
Initially wanting no more than to control his TV computer with hand gestures while seated comfortably on his couch, 29-year-old Tremaine, who studied mechatronics, used the Kinect 3D depth sensor to build a technology along with two others, Matt Strickland and Greg Brigley, for surgeons to view and manipulate medical files such as MRIs, CT scans and X-rays.

“This allows them to just make it a continuous part of surgery,” said Tremaine. “So they don’t have to memorize as much and they can just reference on the fly.”

Strickland, a medical resident at The University Health Network and also a University of Waterloo graduate, spawned the idea last year in Tremaine for broader applicability of the technology in health care.


“Being a resident, he was seeing the same problem everyday,” recalls Tremaine. “He was the guy they were asking, “One frame more. One frame back. Twenty frames more. One frame back.”

Traditionally, operating room challenges have been the amount of time spent consulting and memorizing images and charts and then re-scrubbing back into surgery. “This allows them to just make it a continuous part of surgery. So they don’t have to memorize as much and they can just reference on the fly,” said Tremaine.

Moreover, the less time a patient is kept anesthetized means lesser risk to the patient and greater money savings for the hospital.

Having only conceived the idea last fall, the gestures have, not surprisingly, undergone some evolution as part of a relationship with Sunnybrook Hospital that Tremaine describes as “synergistic.” The test run took place in early March during six surgeries across three days. The gestures were, in some cases, performed too low by the surgeon and risked hitting the patient. Others were too close to the surgeon’s body and risked contamination.

But as with the gestures, the hardware atop which Tremaine’s technology sits is also undergoing change and will eventually be commoditized. Acer Inc., for instance, plans to make available a lower-priced version of Kinect this summer.

That sort of movement in the industry bodes well for the Parry Sound, Ont., native, who gives it a mere five years before it becomes commonplace to interact with everyday devices using hand gestures. “It’s such a clear problem that is solved so well and so straightforwardly. I look forward to the big picture stuff happening,” said Tremaine. “Like touch devices, gestural interfaces just get natural. It’s not like I have to learn to type on a keyboard. It’s something I was born with.”

When ComputerWorld Canada spoke with Tremaine last week, he was at the National Business and Technology Conference in Toronto, where he had just pitched his technology earlier that day in the final round of the Entrepreneurship Competition. Tremaine and 20 other teams were vying for the $30,000 worth of advisory services from MaRS, an innovation hub in Toronto. Oohlala Mobile won for its global mobile platform upon which students can navigate study and social life.

One of these 20 other teams was headed by Jonathan Ng, a 19-year-old University of Toronto electrical and computer engineering student, who was also at the National Business and Technology Conference. Ng is in the process of co-developing, with fellow students Donnie Yee and Christina Cai, a service to help people nearby share taxis to a common destination, which will take the form of a GPS-enabled mobile app.

“This has been a side project for us,” said Ng, who envisions this will eventually grow into a system with service kiosks located at key locations such as airports for those who have no local wireless service but want to share a cab.

“We see this to be very applicable in high-density commuter locations,” said Ng.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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