by Brendon Nafziger
, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 07, 2011
From the June 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
At first, Microsoft’s response was, as expected, rather ham-fisted. The company threatened to “work closely with law enforcement” to keep the Kinect “tamper-resistant.” But the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant eventually accepted the Kinect was more than a toy, and decided to embrace the new uses. This spring, Microsoft is even scheduled to release its own basic programming toolkit.
The potential for the Kinect wasn’t lost on the Virtopsy team. Around the time the Kinect hacks made news, Ebert said Dr. Steffen Ross, a gadget-crazy colleague, approached him with an idea. What if the Kinect could be used for the hands-free control of the PACS system in the autopsy hall? This way, the doctor could just wave his arms around to scroll through the slides. No washing up needed.
Ebert, at first, was skeptical. He wasn’t sure if he could get the Kinect and the PACS to work together. “I had no idea how complicated it was to [get] these hack drivers,” he said, so nothing was done. But sometime later, the colleague went out and bought a Kinect anyway. Before leaving for a conference in the United States, he left it in Ebert’s office. Ebert got his hands on an open-source hack driver, and started to tinker around with it. A few weeks later, it was working.
The Kinect isn’t the first time someone has tried to create a no-touch PACS interface. An earlier piece of software, called Gestix, could be set up to remotely operate a PACS system – through gestures – using a Web cam. But Ebert said because it relied on a basic Web cam, it was hard to program. The Web cam would have to be calibrated to recognize a physician’s specific gestures and even the color of the glove used.
The ease with which the team got Kinect working comes from its real strength: it’s a depth-sensing camera. The device is actually a two-part system: a light source shoots out infrared beams to map the room, which get reflected back and picked up by the camera. The system can then tell how far into the room something is by how long it takes for the light to bounce back. It can then separate the foreground – say, a doctor’s hand– from the background. It can use this “knowledge” to only interpret the nearer object’s movements: in this case, the doctor’s hands. Programmers can even ensure the Kinect isn’t confused by someone walking in front of the doctor, by telling it to ignore near, big objects that suddenly appear.
“You have depth, not just color, so it makes it quite easy to program and get results quickly,” Ebert said.
Nonetheless, the team’s Kinect-PACS control system is just a proof-of-concept prototype. It hasn’t been used in a real virtopsy case yet. “Basically, we wanted to publish [the results] first before we continue development. Even though my colleagues already were like, ‘When can we use it?’”