Now is an incredibly exciting time to capitalize on what has been a hive of behind the scenes activity in haptics.  Haptics is best understood as the feedback generated by a computer as a result of a user’s interaction. Imagine using your fingers to select your favourite piece of music or latest podcast on your smartphone without having to look.   A haptics expert can create touch experiences by applying sensation, force or vibrations to a device, which responds when users physically interact with it. When applied to virtual reality (VR), this ‘human oriented’ engineering gives a much more believable, realistic and immersive experience. This has enormous potential to change the way we work, learn and play.

Described by some as the ‘forgotten sense’, touch is certainly the easiest of the senses to take for granted. It is integral to almost every part of daily life. Touch plays a pivotal role when performing dexterous, precise motions, especially those practiced by a doctor, surgeon or dentist. Of all the skills needed to qualify as a medical professional, some of the hardest to obtain and refine are those related to directly operating on a patient.

To gain real-world experience, trainees must practice drilling a tooth or removing an appendix.  However, clinicians cannot just keep performing procedures until they get it right.  Somehow, the first time they operate on a real person, they must be practiced, confident and above all, competent.  This seemingly contradictory state of affairs is closely bound up in the harsh but surprisingly apt description of medical education, “see one, do one, teach one”, which is still as relevant now as it was 100 years ago.

Practice procedures

How can medical professionals learn practice-based skills more effectively, now and in the future?  Enter stage left: computer simulation, VR and haptic technologies.  Done well, the combination of all three can realistically recreate the physical experience of performing clinical techniques.  This is where we come in.

At Generic Robotics, we have built a workstation (SimuTeach®) capable of visual, sound and touch feedback. We bring together advanced robotics, state-of-the-art simulation software, VR and teaching content in a unified package. Trainees from any field can practice realistic procedures safely and repeatedly, gaining essential skills and confidence before working on a real patient.

We recently completed our first procedure for teaching intraoral injection to trainee dentists.   SimuTeach® gives trainees access to patient case studies and allows them to observe and perform the procedure in 3D with haptics. They can obtain objective feedback on performance, which helps monitor progress and set learning targets.  Our module for teaching intraoral injection is the first of hundreds to come online. Coming soon are cavity preparation and laparoscopic surgery.

By allowing clinicians to practice in VR with realistic touch sensations, learning is both relevant and transferable to the real world.  Computer-based simulation training brings with it a range of advantages.  Students can practice in complete safety with zero risk of harming patients or themselves. Simuteach® can also help cut training costs. Users can make unlimited practice attempts without using clinical consumables. There is also no need for sterile working areas; the platform can be set up anywhere with an electrical outlet.

An expanding operation

SimuTeach® is the first platform to embrace the entire clinical spectrum. Having started with dental, the Generic Robotics team will quickly scale up to build content that spans medical, surgical and veterinary disciplines. This general-purpose approach means trainees can access every conceivable case; from easy to difficult and routine to rare procedures.

We take the best aspects of current teaching methods and combine them with the latest technologies to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  In doing so, we pave the way for a radical new ecosystem for training hands-on skills, improving not only standards of teaching but patient care.

 

Dr Alastair Barrow

Dr Alastair Barrow

Managing Director / Applications Lead at Generic Robotics
Dr Alastair Barrow has over 10 years’ experience in VR, haptics, robotics and simulation.Having gained a PhD in Cybernetics, he worked as research associate on simulation projects at University of Reading and King’s College London.He went on to join the clinical simulation group at Imperial College London, collaborating on several training simulators and was awarded a research fellowship to explore the use of advanced haptic technologies.He joined Generic Robotics in 2013 as one of two directors and helped propel the development of the GR product line.Alongside being Managing Director, Alastair acts as Applications Lead where he is responsible for the delivery of the SimuTeach® and Toia® product line and core software technology.
Dr Alastair Barrow

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