Future Tense: Objects Ahead Are Closer Than They Appear

It is a full-time job to keep on top of the latest developments in technology. But what is interesting about this area of application is how it is leveraging Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing platform which was originally developed for their Xbox 360 video game console. Rather than ignore or attack people hacking their device, they collaborated with them. The result is an explosion of applications. Medical Kinect applications were covered in this good article by Christine Dobby in the Financial Post of July 19, 2012:

Blood-spattered surgeons intent on maintaining operating theatre sterility can hardly be expected to drop everything, strip off their gloves and type madly on a PC to dig up urgent patient data.

But what if they could just wave their hands in the air — with no fear of touching anything potentially smeared with bacteria — and navigate medical records on a computer screen using simple gestures?

A technology developed for one of the world’s most popular video game consoles is already helping to make that a reality, as programmers “hack” around with Microsoft Corp.’s Kinect motion sensing platform. Initially built for its Xbox 360 video game console and later released for Windows PCs, Kinect has inspired a number of developers to look for its potential in medical applications. Businesses based on modifications to the platform range from 3D scanning, to the creation of orthopedic molds for shoe insoles, to remote monitoring of at-risk seniors in their homes.

Toronto-based startup GestSure Technologies developed its product, which was one of the first hacks to emerge after Kinect came out, to allow doctors to access medical records on computers in the non-sterile parts of operating rooms using gestural, touchless interfaces. This means surgeons can scroll through records mid-surgery without removing their gloves and having to scrub back in. Another Canadian startup, Montreal’s Jintronix Inc., is building software that couples Kinect’s motion sensing and scanning properties with clinical programs to deliver physical therapy exercises remotely to patients such as stroke victims and those in geriatric care.

What if surgeons could just wave their hands in the air — with no fear of touching anything potentially smeared with bacteria — and navigate medical records on a computer screen using simple gestures?

Other types of Kinect hacks (like body scanning to create interactive dressing rooms, for example) have been evolved but a large number of modifications have been medical-based, said Sheridan Jones, director of business and strategy for Kinect for Windows at Microsoft. “One of the explanations is there’s a big opportunity to overcome certain challenges in the health-care industry using technology,” she said. Ms. Jones noted that accessibility and self-empowerment in health care will be an important trend, particularly as the North American population grows older, something that Jintronix is tapping into. “How to enable people to stay in their homes longer and empower them to participate in their own health care is an important area that technology can actually assist with.”

When Kinect for Xbox came out in November 2010, software developers quickly saw the potential to use the device for purposes beyond entertainment and began “hacking” the platform. Microsoft itself saw that as an opportunity and decided to establish Kinect for Windows (which came out in February of this year) and release software development kits along with the hardware as well as launch an accelerator program for businesses based on Kinect hacks, Ms. Jones said.

GestSure and Jintronix were among 11 companies selected out of more than 500 applicants from around the world to spend three months in Seattle, Wash. at a program Microsoft ran in conjunction with the well-known startup accelerator Tech Stars. The businesses worked with mentors, participated in pitch sessions and refined their products with input from the Microsoft engineers who developed the Kinect technology in the first place. Following two demo days at the end of June, Jintronix has raised $500,000 from a syndicate of Toronto angel investors, about halfway toward its goal of raising a $1-million seed round, said chief executive Justin Tan. The company also won a $50,000 investment prize at last week’s International Startup Festival in Montreal as well as a nod for best startup from a panel of grandmothers. On top of hiring more developers to expand his team of eight, Mr. Tan plans to use the money to make more patent applications (they have already filed four) based on the algorithm of interpreting body movements and translating them into clinically meaningful data.

A modification of Microsoft Kinect allows doctors to scan through patients’ medical records mid-surgery using simple hand gestures.

“We don’t want to make ourselves another Kinect game or another Nintendo Wii game, because they may be fun but they don’t have any clinical validity,” he said. “We want to make sure that every game we have is clinically validated, so the patient knows that they may be having fun, they may be engaged, but they’re doing something that will really help them get better.” Jintronix hopes to have the product ready to ship in 2013 and is planning to sell the software, which will ship along with the Kinect hardware, to rehab hospitals to introduce it to potential users. CEO Jamie Tremaine pitched GestSure’s technology on demo day in Seattle and announced that the company had completed the FDA registration process and could begin selling its systems in the United States.

It is currently in use at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Mississauga, Ont.’s Credit Valley Hospital. When Sunnybrook started using the system in March 2011, surgical oncologist Calvin Law highlighted the importance of imaging in cancer surgeries, where the goal is to remove a tumour but save as much healthy tissue as possible. “The imaging acts like the surgeon’s GPS, telling us exactly where everything is inside the patient,” he said. “And now the surgeon can directly control all of this with a simple wave of the hand — to manipulate the view more specifically to his or her own thinking — and from within the sterile field.”

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