All posts by Daniel Davies

Virtual Reality to drag medical training “out of the 18th Century”

There is no limit to what virtual reality can do for the training of surgeons and doctors, according to Steve Dann, co founder of Medical Realities, the company that uses VR head-mounted displays, such as the Oculus Rift, to transport trainee surgeons into the operating theatre.

Speaking at the Silicon Valley Comes to the UK’s Health Tech Summit, Dann described how we are only just beginning to uncover what VR technology is capable of, but advances in the technology could have a drastic impact on the health industry.

He and his company aim to use VR technology to “drag the training of surgeons out of the 18th Century”.

The company is waiting for the equipment to advance to the point where VR haptic technology allows users to touch and feel things in their CGI world.

Eventually the equipment being developed by Medical Realities could be used to create a Star Trek-like Kobayashi Maru training exercise.

Dann explained that, using VR, surgical trainees would be able to enter into scenarios where something goes drastically wrong and they have to come up with the best possible solution.

According to figures by the Lancet, the surgical workforce would have to increase by 2.2 million to cover 80% of the world’s needs.

The ability to train new surgeons quickly and in a cost-effective way could save millions of lives.

Technology in action

Featured image courtesy of Medical Realities

However, support for VR as a tool to train students is not universal. In a piece from the Guardian, Angharad Everden, a 23 year-old medical trainee at Cambridge University, said that sessions in the dissecting room put the importance of the career she was studying to undertake into perspective .

“These sessions were demanding and made me reflect on death and dying in a way I hadn’t previously,” she said.

Medical Realities will be showcasing its developing technology at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine workshops, which begin on November 9.

Skype co-founders back delivery robots over drones

Two of Skype’s co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, have announced the launch of a new company specialising in self-driving delivery robots.

Starship Technologies will introduce fleets of small, safe, practical and earthbound delivery robots. The project is currently at the prototype stage, but the company hopes to pilot the service, in the UK, next year.

The decision by Heinla and Friis to move into the delivery robot market, rather than invest time and money into delivery drones, is an indication of which device they believe will have the biggest impact on the delivery industry.

Allan Martinson, chief operating officer of Starship Technologies, said: “There are three problems with drone deliveries. Firstly, drones are potentially unsafe. A drone falling from the sky with 10kg shopping bag will hurt somebody. Starship robots are inherently safe; try to hurt yourself with a rolling suitcase.

“Secondly, the drone energy budget is different — it always takes more power to lift something into the air than to roll it on the ground. And finally, public perception of drones is controversial — they may create privacy problems and many people really do not like the idea of hundreds of drones buzzing above the heads.”

Starship robots are capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags, and the robots can complete local deliveries within five to 30 minutes of being dispatched from a local hub or retail outlet.

Customers will be able to choose from a selection of short, precise delivery times, and, during the delivery process, shoppers can track the robot’s location in real time through a mobile app. On arrival, only the app holder is able to unlock the cargo.

Integrated navigation and obstacle avoidance software, installed in the robots, enables them to drive autonomously, but they are also overseen by human operators who can step in to ensure safety at all times.

Image courtesy of Starship Technologies

Images courtesy of Starship Technologies

Considering the recent publicised cases of Segways and “hoverboard” scooters being deemed illegal in the UK, there is a risk that the robots Starship Technology is developing will be ready before they are legally safe to use.

However, Martinson is confident that will not be the case.

He said: “The UK allows testing of driverless self-driving vehicles, based on a recently adopted Code of Practice. A decision on sidewalks use is in local government’s competence. We have been talking to four city councils so far, and we have received a very warm welcome. Greenwich, our pilot location, has expressed official support for the pilot.”