Making medical dummies less dumb

By / 19th of December, 2014

A GROUP of industrial designers are ready to revolutionise the simulation technology used to train future doctors and nurses.

The designers from the University of South Australia have lodged patent applications for a novel diagnostic tool that uses spatial augmented reality (SAR) to project the appearance of disease, disorder or trauma onto the moving surface of medical manikins.

The potential is to make an infinite range of conditions available at the touch of a button, removing the need to physically – and often messily – apply makeup to a manikin each time.

Importantly, the 3D projections can change over time, allowing students to see, for example, the development of bruising or any improvement in the “patient’s” condition.

“You could even make the manikin a smart surface like a smart board in a classroom,” said Sandy Walker. “If something is evident on the surface you could then show a picture below the surface and provide information about the internal trauma.”

Walker, a Lecturer in Industrial Design at the University of South Australia’s School of Art, Architecture and Design, says he’s aware of research using an augmented reality approach using screens, but none that projects directly onto the surface of a manikin.

The response from medical equipment manufacturers has been positive, and the university’s technology commercialisation company ITEK is looking for commercial partners to help direct the next phase of research.

Trials to date have focused on creating a digital mask that can be used on the face of existing manikins (though a new dummy face without a mouth is required). As the manikin’s head moves, a computer recalibrates the settings to keep the manikin’s projected features accurately in place. Two or three projectors are used to reduce shadowing.

The next phase will extend the concept to the full body, allowing the system to be used on even the most sophisticated of medical manikins, some of which can cost more than $100,000.

At the other end of the scale, it could also be used on cheaper models when the full range of movement is not required. This would allow a variety of base manikins to be created in a realistic combination of shapes and sizes.

“Manikins can be very sophisticated electromechanical devices that can breathe, cry and sweat, but at the end of the day they look like lumps of plastic and are all based on physically fit young males,” Walker said. “That’s not always the type of patient that you typically see in hospitals.

“Our approach also allows you to manufacture manikins that are tall, short, fat or skinny and to make them clearly old or young, male or female and any nationality.”

Walker developed the concept with the assistance of Dr Michal Wozniak, with whom he has worked on numerous medical devices, and created a manikin prototype in partnership with UniSA Masters student Nirmal Menon.

However, the SAR smarts were created by Professor Bruce Thomas, the director of the university’s Wearable Computer Laboratory, and his team. Thomas and Walker have been exploring new ways to use SAR as a prototyping tool to visualise, interact with and test various types of equipment and spaces that are being designed.

In a related but non-SAR project, Walker and Menon have developed a complex system of projection and facial recognition that allows a manikin to accurately mouth through animation the words spoken by a person in another room, thus making it possible for the virtual “patient” to “speak” to the trainee doctor or nurse. 

Key contacts

Philipp Dautel Contact ITEK Ventures Pty Ltd
61 08 8302 5320