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Subspecialties Business and Innovation, Imaging & Diagnostics

Just Hack it Together

This month’s cover story features the work of Carl Glittenberg. He’s taking OCT images of a patient’s retina, rendering them in three dimensions, and if you have the Oculus Rift (a truly excellent and non-vomit-inducing virtual reality [VR] helmet), you can inspect the inside of that retina from whatever angle you like. The implications are profound for surgical planning, training, consultation and patient education – why is this now possible?

Ophthalmologists have a lot to thank computer gamers for. The processing power needed to render the VR retina comes from graphic card GPUs designed to make Halo running at 4K on a top gaming rig look awesome – and that takes an insane amount of power. The VR headset is mostly built from a bunch of off-the-shelf components found in some high-end Samsung smartphones – sensors, accelerometers, HD displays. The optics are actually pretty basic – the headset’s software pre-distorts the display, so everything looks good despite the cheap glass inside. It’s rumored that the final device will cost US$200 – the price of a cheap smartphone or a decent pair of shoes. This is almost an impulse purchase price – and this makes it ‘consumer’ – all the kids will have them by Christmas 2015.

Gamers are also to be thanked for devices like Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect. It’s slightly more than just a webcam; it’s multiple webcams and an infrared light source – and some incredible software that enables the console to track all of the movements of multiple people in the room. Aldo Faisal at Imperial College London and his team are hacking these devices in order to reuse them as eye trackers for a fraction of the price of current commercial options.

Smartphone cameras. They keep on improving. The megapixel wars are over – but now we’re seeing light sensitivity skirmishes: ISO values are skyrocketing, and with it, image quality in all light conditions. Smartphone lens adaptors for ophthalmic imaging might not match the quality of the commercial options, but they are workable, and as smartphone cameras improve, the gap will close. Bearing in mind that computer processing power is already being used to circumvent the need for expensive optics, it’ll be interesting to see what the fundoscopes of the future will look like – and cost.

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About the Author
Mark Hillen

I spent seven years as a medical writer, writing primary and review manuscripts, congress presentations and marketing materials for numerous – and mostly German – pharmaceutical companies. Prior to my adventures in medical communications, I was a Wellcome Trust PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

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