Oculus-rift based technology could address shortcomings in surgical training.

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A UK developed virtual reality (VR) system for training surgeons offers considerable advantages over existing approaches its inventor has claimed.

Developed by Huddersfield University PhD researcher Yeshwanth Pulijala, the technology – which has been designed primarily to help train maxillofacial surgeons – combines a specially developed app with the Oculus Rift VR headset, in order to give trainee surgeons close-up unrestricted, 360-degree views of a surgical procedure.

The project aims to provide accurate graphical visualisations of human anatomy and surgical procedures via state-of-the-art headsets.

Pulijala explained that whilst learning through observation is essential for trainee surgeons, it is often difficult for trainees to see exactly what is going on, and the technology was developed in response to this challenge.

“Trainees learn by observing procedures in real time,” he said. “But the problem is that not everybody can see what is happening.  This is especially the case in crowded operating rooms where surgical trainees perform multiple duties.  Also in surgeries confined to oral and maxillofacial zone, as the structures are complex and densely enclosed in a confined space, it is very hard to observe and learn.”

Pulijala is now working on further developing the technology, and hopes to be able to release a commercial version in the first quarter of 2016.

The Huddersfield project is one of a number of initiatives aimed at exploring the potential medical application of the Oculus Rift headset. Indeed, last year, The Engineer reported on a system under development by the  UK government’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and electronic consultancy Plextec designed to help trainees to experience what it’s like to make tough clinical decisions whilst under fire.