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January 20, 2011

Kinect hack brings Microsoft to the operating table

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by Tom Coyne

A group of graduate engineering students at Washington University are now using the Microsoft Kinect device to control and guide surgical robots.

The Xbox360 Kinect has seen so many hacks these days that having someone control a robot with the device is no unusual thing. However, this will be the first time the device has ever been used to complete a task that is so important and risky.

The Problem with surgical robots is an age old one that scientists and engineers have been working on for years. The idea of surgical robots is that they can perform delicate operations that are too small and awkward for human hands.

However using the Kinect to create three dimensional maps of a patient’s body the team is working on fixing the main problem with surgical robots.

That problem is the lack of a tactile sensation when a doctor is guiding the robot. If a doctor is using the robot to go in with a scalpel and brushes an exposed vein or something similar, the operator may not feel the subtle bump.

However the force feedback given off by the Kinnect can now tell the operator how heavily or lightly the robot is pressing in with the scalpel.

Howard Chizeck, UW professor of electrical engineering has said. “For robotics-assisted surgeries, the surgeon has no sense of touch right now. What we’re doing is using that sense of touch to give information to the surgeon, like ‘You don’t want to go here.’”

Also, Ryden, who designed the system during one weekend, said “It’s really good for demonstration because it’s so low-cost, and because it’s really accessible. You already have drivers, and you can just go in there and grab the data. It’s really easy to do fast prototyping because Microsoft’s already built everything.”

Not only is using the Kinect a good idea, but it saves a small fortune. Without using the Kinect, the project would have cost over $50,000.

Story link: Kinect hack brings Microsoft to the operating table

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