Three commercial hardware developers and the Centre for Human Simulation at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have united their forces to create a simulation tool allowing both doctors and students to practice delicate surgical procedures on a virtual human eyeball without having to cut any tissue. The Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference held at the end of January in San Diego, formed an ideal occasion to give a fascinating demonstration of this unique combination of technologies.
The high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) simulation runs on an open-architecture high-performance 3D graphics workstation, produced by Intergraph Computer Systems. In turn, the N-Vision company provides the statically mounted high-resolution binoculars through which the viewer sees a computer-generated image of an eyeball. The software to generate this image has been developed at the Centre for Human Simulation (CHS) of the Colorado University. The CHS scientists have used data from the Visible Human Project, set up by the National Library of Medicine, to obtain a perfect virtual image of a human eyeball.
Finally, haptic feedback is offered by the Phantom 3D touch device, a pencil-shaped virtual scalpel which simulates the force resistance of the tissue as if it were really being cut. SensAble Technologies is the manufacturer of this touch tool that can be applied in a range of simulated exercise environments and workspaces suited to surgical procedures. The trainee can freely move the haptic device around and press down on the eye whenever he feels ready to make a cut. At that moment, he will actually be submitted to the feeling of resistance within the virtual eyeball.
The virtual reality (VR) hardware and software ensemble presents an extremely useful training tool for inexperienced students as well as for high-qualified specialists. New surgical techniques can thoroughly be tested and practised before trying them out on the real patient. This kind of virtual training will enable both student and physician to perform delicate surgical eye interventions with greater confidence and security than they already do.