i3D robotics has won funding to develop a virtual-reality training platform to enable medical students to upskill remotely and perform simulation surgeries. The funding is part of the Government’s Fast Start competition, and the successful projects are being overseen by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation. This project has been named Stereo Theatre.

Due to time and geographical constraints, the Stereo Theatre project addresses the problem that senior consultants can advise on a limited number of patients. This leads to extreme variations in hospital performance, patient outcomes, survival statistics and patient satisfaction.

The primary target case for this technology is operating theatres where the use of Industry 4.0 technology will enable senior consultants to participate in operations conducted by junior consultants without them having to be in the same physical location. This will mean more patients being observed by experienced surgeons as well as junior surgeons gaining advice in real scenarios from senior surgeons. Stereo Theatre also offers game-changing advances in overcoming the physical restraints in the teaching of medical students.

The main aim of Stereo Theatre is to develop a benchtop demonstrator that uses the latest 2D imaging and 3D mapping technology and is interfaced with Unity to allow for integration with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). The demonstrator will be tested in the Medical AMRC digital operating theatre to prove the technology can monitor the real-world patient to update a digital twin displayed in VR and AR in real or near-real-time.

Dr Benjamin Crutchley, the Senior Software Engineer at i3D, commented: “Stereo Theatre potentially offers a revolutionary approach to teaching medical students and surgical procedures as it enables the remote viewing of operations. This is advantageous for remote senior surgeons to offer advice on what the local surgical team should perform and for medical students who will be able to reexperience surgical procedures to improve their learning. Transferring technology from industrial environments such as nuclear and steel really shows the versatility of 3D stereo vision and allows i3D to enter a new sector.”

i3D’s machine vision technology, which has been proven in other industrial applications requiring VR/AR representation of the physical world, will play a crucial role in creating a virtual reality digital twin of a patient in an operating theatre. This technology can be used by the local surgical team to make more informed procedural decisions or by remote surgeons in any location to provide advice. It can also be used for assessment purposes, allowing the surgical team to better understand the procedure to be performed. The technology’s high-resolution 2D and 3D imaging capabilities will enable remote patient assessment, and the data it provides can be used in machine vision algorithms, including feature detection and machine learning, to offer additional information for consultants when making critical decisions.

Once the examination or surgical procedure is completed, the images and 3D models will be stored in a big data database for further analysis and as a record of the patient’s development.

Dr Richard French, the Senior Systems Scientist at i3D, expressed the collaborative nature of the project, stating: “AMRC Medical & Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will integrate the technology developed in this Stereo Theatre project into their Digital Theatre platform. This collaborative effort will enhance patient safety, improve staff working conditions, and advance patient care. This project is a prime example of i3D’s successful partnerships with other industry leaders and world-class research groups.”

About the author : Sarah Marsh-Collings
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