Google Glass heads into the operating room

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CC BY-SA 2.0 tedeytan

When we talk about green technology these days, it's more than just renewable energy, what materials are used to make a device or how energy efficient it is -- although those things are very important -- it's about functionality and usefulness too. Technology that is regularly used, simplifies and betters our lives or serves a beneficial purpose is more "green" than a solar-powered gadget that just gathers dust somewhere.

For a long time it has seemed that Google Glass, Google's optical head-mounted display, might wind up in that dust gathering category. A superfluous gadget that was compelling in theory, but didn't have a strong role to play in making our lives more efficient or better in any way. Luckily it seems that all of that R&D wasn't wasted. The glasses-like gadget has found a place where it could play a very important role: the operating room.

For years, surgeons have used 3D imaging to help them visualize complicated surgeries, especially those where a clear line of sight within organs is not possible. For cardio-thoracic surgeons, surgery to unblock the coronary artery is one of those. Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a procedure where a catheter is guided into the blocked artery to open it back up and restore blood flow, has a range of success rates not only because it is a difficult procedure but because it requires detailed imaging that is often hard to get through traditional methods.

New, more effective, imaging methods are starting to be used, but the projection of those images on large screens in the OR is expensive. That's where Google Glass comes in. Cardiologists in Warsaw, Poland were recently successful in performing a PCI procedure to unblock a fully occluded artery in a patient with the aid of Google Glass.

The surgeons were able to take advantage of the hands-free device to view clear images of the vessel right in their line of sight as the procedure took place. An app was developed by physicists from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modeling of the University of Warsaw that offered voice-controlled commands for zooming and panning the images of the vessel while the surgeons accurately guiding the catheter wire into place, concluding with the implantation of two drug-releasing stents.

Researchers say that this success shows that the headset can be used for better planning and guidance of interventional procedures, while offering better efficiency and comfort for surgeons -- cardiologists and otherwise -- carrying out the interventions, all at a cheaper price than large display screens. They one day see additional features being added to the headset like filter lenses that provide protection against X-rays to make them even more useful in daily clinical solutions.

Google halted production on its prototype Glass earlier in the year, but the company says it is still dedicated to the project, turning it over to ex-Apple designer Tony Fadell (who also co-invented the Nest thermostat) to work on a new-and-improved version to be released sometime in the future.

Google Glass heads into the operating room
The optical display device that is often the subject of ridicule has proven itself to be a very valuable asset to surgeons.

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