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Feeling the health benefits of Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is making waves in a number of industries, from Formula 1, to manufacturing, to education. However, one of the biggest sectors benefiting from AR technology, in literally life-changing ways, is healthcare.

The leap forward we have seen in the capabilities of health technology over the past few years has been staggering and Augmented Reality is becoming a doctor’s dream, as applications of the technology are presenting a seemingly endless list of ways to improve patient care.

Have you ever needed a blood test or IV drip and found it has taken more than one painful attempt to get the needle in the right place? Hospitals can be scary places and feeling like a pincushion does nothing to improve the doctor/patient experience. Evena medical uses smart glasses to shine near infrared light onto a patient’s skin to identify veins beneath. Digital cameras then project this in the field of vision of the practitioner making it easier to get procedures right, first time. For very young and very old patients identifying veins can be time consuming for nurses and distressing for patients, however technology such as this has the ability to make the process easier for patients and medics alike.

Up there with needles on the list of unpleasant situations for patients is a trip to the dentist and poor patient care is one of the key reasons behind this. There is often a disconnect between a dentist and their patient, as the practitioner has to focus on a screen rather that the person whose mouth they are examining. iDent has developed technology to allow dentists to better focus on the patient by removing the need to turn their heads to view a monitor when using a camera as part of complex dental procedures. Instead of an external screen, the images are projected directly in front of the dentist using smart glasses, as they see the image from the camera as a layer over their view of the patient's teeth. This allows the dentist to focus entirely on the patient, putting them at ease.

However, AR goes beyond helping medics do their job; it is also improving the quality of life for those with debilitating health conditions and disabilities. The majority of individuals registered legally blind in the UK have partial vision left, but it is often not enough to go about day-to-day activities. To combat this, the University of Oxford is using Augmented Reality smart glasses to enable partially-sighted people to recover some of their independence.

The technology takes images of nearby people and processes them through specially-designed software, projecting them onto transparent electronic displays, where the glasses' lenses would normally be. The technology doesn’t restore full vision but has been shown to enable facial recognition by helping to bring the world into a better degree of contrast, and obstacles more into alignment for users, minimising the physical risk that can affect those with poor vision.

It is not only those with poor sight that AR smart glasses can help. Portuguese company, LusoVu created EyeSpeak, to help people with extreme mobility and communication limitations caused by illness or injury to speak. The application displays a screen with a virtual keyboard, while a micro camera on the glasses detects the position and the movement of the eyes. In this way, the software identifies the keys the user is looking at. It gives anyone, regardless of the severity of their condition the ability to speak and communicate with those around them using only a pair of smart glasses.

These examples are just a taste of the way Augmented Reality is transforming the medical profession. Technology is at the very heart of the future of medical care and the next five years will see Augmented Reality and smart glasses technology take a prominent place improving patient care.

Valerie Riffaud-Cangelosi, New Market Development Manager for Epson Europe

Image source: Shutterstock/Kopytin Georgy