We have already seen a number of real-world uses for augmented reality that move beyond just gaming or entertainment, including the construction market, learning STEM skills, airport wayfinding, home décor and much more.
One budding area that might be a boon for augmented reality is in health care, where the ability to perform diagnostics is crucial, or even surgery, where a doctor can see internally what’s happening before or during an operation.
Researchers at the University of Alberta are putting this to use with a system called ProjectDR that allows medical images, such as CT scans and MRI data, to be displayed directly on a patient’s body, and that can move with the patient.
"We wanted to create a system that would show clinicians a patient's internal anatomy within the context of the body," says Ian Watts, a computing science graduate student at the University of Alberta.
The augmented reality technology includes a motion-tracking system using infrared cameras and markers on the patient’s body as well as a projector to display the images. However, in order to have the image track and move with the patient’s body, custom software had to be written in order for it to work.
"There are lots of applications for this technology, including in teaching, physiotherapy, laparoscopic surgery and even surgical planning," Watts says.
Researchers are working to improve the system’s automatic calibration and to add components including depth sensors. The next step is testing the program’s viability in a clinical setting.
"Soon, we'll deploy ProjectDR in an operating room in a surgical simulation laboratory to test the pros and cons in real-life surgical applications," says Pierre Boulanger, professor in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. Once these studies are complete, the team wants to deploy the system in real surgical pilot studies.