New Augmented Reality Platform Could Help Save Lives in Combat and Other Crisis Areas
Lane Long posted on September 17, 2018 |
This headset connects medics in remote areas with highly experienced medical leaders worldwide to pr...
Purdue’s AR-enabled system of telemedicine could soon afford victims wounded on the battlefield immediate access to the world’s leading surgeons. (Image courtesy of Purdue University.)
Purdue’s AR-enabled system of telemedicine could soon afford victims wounded on the battlefield immediate access to the world’s leading surgeons. (Image courtesy of Purdue University.)

Engineers at Purdue University hope to leverage augmented reality (AR) to save lives in dangerous situations like combat or natural disasters. The team presented their new developments at the 2018 Military Health Research Symposium. The system they’ve developed links an on-scene medical professional with the world’s leading experts through a headset worn by the physically present medic. In time, this method could replace the somewhat unwieldy telestrators that characterize real-time telemedicine today. In that sense, the project is a clear step toward world-class medical care distributed to those in high-stress situations everywhere, no matter how remote.

The Purdue System

In pressure-packed situations, like battlefield injuries, the use of telestrator technology has several key drawbacks. The on-scene surgeon is forced to shift focus to a separate screen, which removes their attention from the patient. The remote mentor is also totally dependent on the mentee’s field of view to have a full understanding of the situation. Finally, there’s no mechanism by which upcoming procedural steps can be laid out in advance for the mentee. Purdue’s new AR-enabled technology addresses each of these concerns.

An overview of how Purdue’s augmented reality system is looking to change telemedicine.

The Purdue system uses a transparent headset screen that gives the present medic the ability to see the patient in front of them overlaid with feedback from the off-site expert. The consulting expert, who might be anywhere in the world, uses an interactive video monitor that displays the patient and allows feedback to be given in real time. Even more impressive, the system uses vision algorithms to ensure that procedural notes are displayed in the relevant location in the operating doctor’s field of view. In other words, the headset helps organize the information from the mentor in a way that’s easy to understand for the mentee. This naturally increases effectiveness and reduces the likelihood of mistakes in a situation in which a patient’s life could hang in the balance.

Further Refinements and Implementation

Already backed by the U.S. Department of Defense, the project’s next step will involve thoroughly vetting the technology with the help of the military. Before the end of the year, the team will work with professionals at a Virginia naval base to test it under even more realistic circumstances. The groups will work together to simulate battlefield conditions to better understand issues that may need correcting before the military chooses to implement it. There are a number of improvements already in the works, including improving the stability of the mentee’s view to better control for the hectic head motions common in disaster situations. If AR continues to advance at the rate it is now, headsets may soon become just as integral to combat medics as their surgical kits themselves.

For interesting context on just how fast the technology is improving, check out this article on where Purdue’s work on AR-enabled telemedicine was three years ago.

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