As augmented reality and virtual reality tools continue to edge into health care, it’s easy to see the advantages. Color overlays and 3D renderings help surgeons make more informed decisions during a sensitive operation. Medical students practice procedures in a safe, immersive setting. An ultrasound technician conducts a hands-free examination at the patient’s bedside with a lightweight, portable display. In the end, digital realities such as these are aimed at improving patient outcomes. AR and VR will become more commonplace in the health care industry and it’s up to the medical device manufacturers to help push innovations into this sector.
How Startups Drive Innovation
To meet the growing demand for medical devices with integrated digital visualization systems, device manufacturers must keep up with the latest in image-guided technologies. Often, leading-edge ideas come from startups who partner with optical design firms to develop the precision lenses and coatings necessary to achieve demanding performance specifications. Larger medical device manufacturers may have optics specialists in-house, but they too may need help refining a design or improving manufacturability. Here are just some of the ways VR is being used to advance healthcare:
- Children’s hospital uses VR help plan surgeries
- VR proven effective in the detection of early Alzheimer’s Disease
- Osso uses VR to reshape surgical training
The Importance of Well-Designed Optical Systems
Enhanced digital optics are central to tomorrow’s visualization systems. Augmented reality systems combine real and virtual images to create immersive environments, but the design and manufacture of these systems is complex. The imaging system must consist of sensors and cameras with precision lenses that meet ultra-resolution, large field of view, and extended depth of field parameters. Beyond the device itself, algorithms must be developed to process the images. Manufacturers who partner with those who have proven capabilities in micro optics, specialized optical coatings, and precision optical assemblies will develop a solid supply chain as medical devices continue to miniaturize in both size and weight.
Increased market adoption depends on how digital reality technologies improve upon our human abilities. In a study referenced by IEEE Spectrum, the human eye may not be able to handle the current AR simulations due to “focal rivalry,” which prevents us from focusing on two objects simultaneously. Technologies such as 4D light field display are being developed to overcome this as well as eyestrain, headaches, and nausea, but we’re not quite there yet.
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