Gesture Recognition Technology Brings Touch-free Technology to the Operating Room and Beyond
June 6, 2014
Computers have revolutionized the world in countless ways and have become progressively integrated in our daily lives as their user interfaces become increasingly powerful and intuitive. Witness the ubiquitous touch screen that’s now used in everything from answering phone calls to signing checks. How much more powerful would a user interface be that was so intuitive and fluid that the line between “virtual” and “reality” almost disappears?
That’s the promise of gesture recognition technology – and it’s not in the too distant future. What was once considered the provenance of gaming enthusiasts and science fiction devotees is proving to be a powerful tool in the healthcare industry right now.
Gesture recognition was first popularized with the release of the Wii gaming system by Nintendo in 2006. The Wii used a wireless controller capable of sensing movement in three dimensions to control users’ avatars onscreen. Microsoft built on the momentum of Nintendo’s success by releasing Kinect, a sensing device for the Xbox 360 that used specially designed software, combining an infrared projector and a camera to create a hands-free user interface. That control-less, touch-free system took gesture recognition from being an interesting recreational technology to a technology that is now gaining more interest for its almost limitless potential. And within a span of a few years, what was once only imagined has become an indispensible industry. In fact, the global touch free sensing and gesture recognition market is expected to reach $15 billion by 2018, from just $2 billion in 2012.
Almost instantly, tech and electronics companies also recognized the technology’s possible applications in healthcare. How, exactly, the healthcare industry will adapt gesture recognition to improve experiences for both patients and doctors is still an evolving question, but research has already found that gesture recognition can be used for diverse purposes, including diagnoses of autism in children, imaging in surgery and virtual group therapy for adolescent patients who can design their own avatars for participation. It can also be used for telemedicine, where the technology is sensitive enough to monitor a patient’s breathing. According to one study, the Kinect game controller and technology could cut the US healthcare bill by up to $30 billion by allowing physicians and other medics to interact with patients remotely, thereby reducing the number of hospital visits and the associated risk of infection.
As the applications have proliferated, so too have the companies developing software and components that support it. It’s clear that the applications are just in their infancy. How might they evolve as the technology that supports them becomes even more seamless?