Augmented reality in bioengineering

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In the future the augmented reality will play a key role in medicine and Italy is among the first in Europe to investigate this possibility. At the PERCRO laboratories of the Institute of Communication Technologies, Information and Perception (TeCIP) of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, started the new ReMeDi Project - Remote Medical Diagnostician, within the Seventh Framework Program (FP7). We talked about ReMeDi with Carlo Alberto Avizzano , coordinator of the Research Unit of Perceptual Robotics at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna.

The aim of the project is to build a robot system for medical tele-examination of patients. In particular developing a robotic device through which the doctor can palpate the abdomen of the patient by remote control using  robot’s”hands”. From a scientific point of view , ReMeDi introduces new techniques for immersive visualization and predictive control to modeling and faithful rendering of the contact between the tools of analysis and the patient . From a clinical point of view and social ReMeDi aims to develop an immersive robotic system that is easy to use for physicians and well tolerated by patients.

“ReMeDi is the last call of the Seventh Framework framework (FP7) and we are just at the beginning of the project,” says Avizzano. “The kick-off meeting has been on 18th December 2013, so this is the first month of the project.” ReMeDi involves over Italy also many international partners, coordinated by Technische Universität München, and each of whom is responsible for the design and development of one of the components of the diagnostic tool. These partners are Bartolomiej Marcin Stanczyk, Uniwersytet Medyczny W Lublinie, Paris- Lodrons - Universität Salzburg, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich and Politecnika Wroclawska.

“At the moment there are two main problems to be addressed,” continues Avizzano. “First, is essential for the physician to make eye contact with the patient, because the importance of empathy between them is not secondary in the diagnosis. Lastly, we need an high sensitivity interface, to replicate the differences in stiffness of the internal organs of the patient in order to perceive any masses.” To do that, all the European groups  are focusing in particular on two aspects: the development of a new interface able to replicate the sensitivity of the doctor's hand, and then the improvement of tele-presence to ensure eye contact between the doctor and the patient.

The TeCIP/PERCRO research team, composed of Carlo Alberto Avizzano, Emanuele Ruffaldi, Alessandro Filippeschi and Massimo Bergamasco, is focusing on two elements: the development of the interface patient-doctor and of one of the parts of the medical diagnostic tool. The other research groups dealing with the developing of the other components, such as probes to press the abdomen of the patient and ultrasound probes.

“It is important to emphasize,” concludes Avizzano, “that the project is at an early stage, however it came in first in the call, obtaining a grant of 3.079.995€ for the entire project, of which 427.660€ for our laboratory in Pisa.” The next steps are therefore very important. “The third week of February in Poland there will be a workshop with doctors and patients to collect data, and from March to June we will work on the design of the machine. Finally, in the second half of 2014 we will proceed with the construction and assembly of the first prototype.”

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