Microsoft’s Kinect motion camera isn’t just a gaming tool anymore. Since May, doctors at St. Thomas’ Hospital in the United Kingdom have been using the device to control medical imaging during surgical procedures – a task that, up until now, had to be carried out through an assistant.

Because surgeons must keep both their hands and equipment sterile during an operation, they haven’t been allowed to directly control crucial medical imagery, such as MRIs and CT scans, in the operating room. With the Kinect camera hooked up to a computer through a USB connection, doctors can now take control of medical imaging using simple hand motions to make procedures more efficient and safe for the patient.

A Microsoft Research team in Cambridge has been working on the technology since the Kinect hit the retail market back in November of 2010. Helena Mentis, a lead researcher on the touchless interaction project, said surgeons “love” the new technology.

“The idea of being able to control almost anything with just a wave of the hand really speaks to how surgeons want to feel like they have control over things,” Mentis said. “They want to be able to save as much time as possible and to be able to get a patient in and out of anesthesia as quickly as possible. Those all are things that they’re motivated by, so they think this is the greatest thing ever.”

With the Kinect setup surgeons can rotate, zoom, and switch images with a variety of simple hand motions. Kinect’s newest SDK recognizes hand movements within a very small range – a crucial feature for surgeons who have a limited amount of space in the operating room.

The project is the second of its kind at Microsoft, who recently accepted a startup working on very similar Kinect technology into its first ever Kinect accelerator. GestSure Technologies, a Canadian startup creating gesture based controls for the operating room, is currently finishing up its run through the three month long accelerator program.

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