We’ve come a long way since the 1960s, when comic book ads promised glasses with X-ray vision. Today, we have smartglasses, wearable pieces of technology that may not bestow see-through sight but have the potential to improve surgery.
Currently, surgeons who rely on medical imaging for guidance must look up from the patient they’re operating on to view an X-ray on a wall or screen. Although research has shown that placing medical images in the field of view of the surgeon’s hands improves efficiency and performance for some procedures, operating room layout and sterility concerns prevent this.
Smartglasses, which superimpose a digital image in the user’s field of view, could address this challenge. A surgeon could drill a screw into a bone under X-ray guidance, for instance, without moving her head, thanks to glasses showing the X-ray next to her hands.
“These glasses can potentially speed up some very common surgeries and make the work environment more comfortable so surgeons can operate more effectively,” says Greg Osgood, a Johns Hopkins orthopaedic surgeon leading a pilot study to test smartglasses for surgery.
For the research, surgeons used Osterhout Design Group R-6 glasses to place screws through rods in artificial tibias. Prior to the procedures, X-ray software was loaded onto the glasses via a wireless keyboard.
One of the findings the researchers hope to investigate is why old habits die hard for some surgeons.
“When they use the glasses, they’re still looking up like they’re looking at a monitor across the room,” says resident orthopaedic surgeon Alex Johnson.
Osgood hopes this study will dovetail with that of robotics, vision and graphics researcher Nassir Navab of the Whiting School of Engineering, who is developing systems that line up medical imagery on a patient’s body. Together, their work could result in technology that makes doctors feel like they have X-ray vision.
View this video to see how smartglasses guide a Johns Hopkins surgeon drilling into an artificial bone.