Highly specialized surgical expertise tends to collect in major medical centers and metropolitan areas, which is a problem if you’re one of the millions of people not living in one. Juan Wachs, an assistant professor of Industrial Engineering and faculty member with the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, and computer science associate professor Voicu Popescu considered this challenge of rural America as an opportunity. They proposed a new telementoring system using robotics and augmented reality to enable surgeons in rural areas to receive expert training in real-time without losing any benefits of an in-person trainer-trainee relationship. It’s called STAR (System for Telementoring with Augmented Reality).
STAR combines Wachs’ gesture recognition and robotics research, Popescu’s augmented reality research, and trauma surgery guidance from Dr. Gerry Gomez, chief trauma surgeon at Eskinazi Health in Indianapolis. “All of this technology either exists or has been discussed in the industry, but nobody has put it together to create the experience,” Wachs says.
In current systems, both the surgeon mentor and mentee use headsets and laptops to view and communicate. It works, but it’s not the most natural way for surgeons to work, says Wachs. STAR will use augmented reality to give the mentor a projected patient on a table. The mentee will use a tablet over the patient as a ‘window’ with the mentor’s guidance appearing onscreen so he never takes his eyes off of the patient. STAR includes the TAURUS robot, whose arms and hands will act as the mentor’s hands in the OR, assisting, pointing things out, and handing tools, just as an in-person mentor would.
Purchased with an equipment grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research, TAURUS’ impact won’t just be felt at home. It is also poised to revolutionize battlefield surgery, where time is of the essence and flying a patient to the nearest expert may be infeasible.
“This system means that surgeons can perform more specialized operations in the field because they can have access to real-time specialist guidance. TAURUS is also much smaller than many surgical robots, which makes it more practical for field hospitals,” he says.
Wachs’ team recently received a grant from the U.S. Armed Forces to make STAR a reality. They expect to spend three years developing the technology before beginning tests.
Wachs will present his research and offer a demonstration of TAURUS as part of the RCHE Research Speaker Series. The presentation will be held in Grissom Hall, room 210, beginning at noon on March 12, 2014. A buffet lunch will be served at 11:30 in room 218. Registration is not required but requested for large groups. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 494-1531 with questions.
Photo by Vincent Walters, Vincent's Eye Photography.
Written by Amira Zamin. Amira is the Communication Specialist with the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering in Discovery Park.