XBox Kinect: The Medical Device in Your Living Room?

 There are advancements in medical devices on the horizon that threaten to rival things only seen in science fiction movies—all brought to you by a piece of video gaming hardware that retails for $149.99.

If you’ve got kids in your family you’ve no doubt seen them playing Dance Central or a handful of other touch-free games on the Kinect for the Microsoft XBox 360. If you haven’t seen it suffice to say the Kinect represents the likely next step in gaming technology. Like those kids in Back to the Future 2 said, “You mean you have to use your hands?!...That’s like a baby’s toy.”
 
And the Kinect could also be pointing the way in the next step in medical device technology. Right now researchers all over the world are adapting the comparatively inexpensive device—effectively turning a piece of hardware designed for battling aliens into a medical device.
Xbox 360 Kinect as medical device
    image copyright Microsoft
 
No doubt video games themselves were a big influence in the idea to hack the Kinect as a control for gesture-based telesurgery. Researchers believe that remotely controlled robots can someday allow surgeons to help patients in far removed areas (such as soldiers on the battlefield). But one of the big challenges of telesurgery as it stands is the lack of tactile sensation for the surgeon. However a research team at the University of Washington has been able to modify the Kinect into a system that provides sensory feedback, thereby increasing overall safety and allowing a more realistic environment for surgeons.
 
Tedesys, a company based in Madrid, is taking a more immediate approach with its TedCas software, which uses the Kinect’s touch-free interface as a means for doctors to interact with and reference patient files, scans, and x-rays without ever having to leave the O.R. The technology can aid in sterilization by eliminating the need to touch a computer and cut down on time wasted, as doctors need to re-sterilize themselves after doing so.
 
And both of these are just the tip of the iceberg. Homebrew Kinect projects have adapted the device to a variety of medical purposes - assisting the visually impaired, working with autistic patients, rehabilitating stroke victims, and even assisting in medical diagnosis.
 
While the technology hasn’t reached Minority Report levels just yet it’s easy to see this as a step in the right direction. One could be skeptical and say most of this exists purely for the cool factor of it and lacks much, if any, practical medical device usage, but to do so would be to ignore the potential. It’s pretty amazing what creatives will do when the technology is made readily available for them to play with. Microsoft has even gotten on board with this and released a Kinect development kit for all the budding innovators out there to experiment with. Imagine what they could do with something actually created purely for medical use (and not just letting little kids beat me at virtual bowling).
 

 -Chris Wiltz