Dr. Charles Kuntz estimates that he has interpreted over 5,000 CT scans in his veterinary career. These scans are a common feature in his operating rooms, as well as those of other physicians. Pulled up on a computer screen, they are used as a kind of map. In order to get the precise view he wants, Kuntz needs to move through the 150-200 individual slices in the scan. Unfortunately, that means either using a sterilized mouse, a plastic bag over his glove, or having someone else in the OR move the scan with only his verbal guidance.
“It’s often a challenge to manipulate the CT scan when you’re scrubbed-in surgically. You can ask somebody else to do it but they never quite get it on the right slides,” says Kuntz.
That’s where Leap Motion comes in. The main component of Leap Motion is a 3-inch silver rectangle. Plugged into your computer via USB, this little $80 box allows a person to use his hands in lieu of a mouse.
Leap Motion can track the movement of all ten of your fingers to one-one hundredthof a millimeter. It has a 150-degree field of view, and reacts not only to side-to-side and up/down motion but also forward and backward movement. Basically, it’s a 3D technology. You can put the Leap Motion on your desktop and sculpt an object on your screen, drive a car in a computer game, or play an air guitar app.
Brimming with Ideas
When it was announced, the Leap Motion garnered immediate fans in the tech community. Most imagined having their own Minority Report computer. Others, however, immediately brimmed with ideas about ways to use Leap Motion to improve the shortcomings of other technologies. University of Toronto graduate student, Richard Abrich is one of those people.
“There’s so much potential for technology to help in medicine,” – Richard Abrich
Abrich is a computer engineer who fell into the world of biomedical software after doing a software internship at a hospital. Although it isn’t a longstanding passion, he has quickly seen the need for his work. “There’s so much potential for technology to help in medicine,” says Abrich.
Already frustrated with the crude software surgeons use on a daily basis, Abrich was further encouraged to innovate by his mother’s bout with necrotizing fasciitis. In the hospital recovering from breast cancer, Abrich’s mother complained of a pain that no one believed because they couldn’t see it. Abrich describes their experience going from hospital to hospital and ER to ER as a “nightmare.” Meanwhile, the entrepreneur in him was compelled to act. “While I was in the hospital with her, I was thinking how can this be solved?” he says.
“It’s easier for me to be an early adopter of technology than if I were practicing in a human hospital,” – Dr. Charles Kuntz
Since then, Abrich has founded TouchFree Labs with the idea of bringing touch-free technology to clinical settings. This includes software that will allow scrubbed-in surgeons to use Leap Motion to manipulate CT scans on their own. Tech-savvy veterinarian Kuntz has already had some experience with this kind of technology, using Leap Motion and basic software to manipulate scans during a couple dozen procedures. However, he has a bit of a regulatory advantage over doctors who practice on humans.
“It’s easier for me to be an early adopter of technology than if I were practicing in a human hospital,” he says. With proof of principle and reasonable forethought, Kuntz was able to bring this technology into his operating room fairly quickly.
Abrich, on the other hand, has been hindered by many barriers to the use of new technology in human hospitals. First, he is well aware that surgeons don’t have time to watch tutorials or take classes on using new technology. So, anything he makes has to be extremely intuitive. In order to achieve this, he would like to work in tandem with surgeons to develop his touch free CT software. Unfortunately he has to have the software first, which would take a full year to create. That means he runs the risk of wasting a year on technology that surgeons don’t actually want.
A fascinating, innovative technology with a great cool factor but very little real-world usefulness.
Additionally, there is the notorious battle between traditional medical practice and new technology. Abrich has tested an initial version of his software on his brother and his brother’s girlfriend – both of whom are doctors — and their reaction was far from encouraging. “Their attitudes were basically that very typical doctor attitude of, ‘well, I just do it this way right now and it works fine. So why should I use this?’” says Abrich.
Abrich would need to show that his technology results in significant improvement in care, or reduction in cost, in order to be appealing to the medical community.
So far, Leap Motion has been used by SpaceX for manufacturing design, in interactive museum exhibits, and in classrooms for children with special needs. At this point, the consensus of both Abrich and much of the tech community is that Leap Motion is a fascinating, innovative technology with a great cool factor but very little real-world usefulness. Abrich’s CT software hasn’t much progressed beyond what he showed on YouTube in May, and he’s considering setting his sights on a project with a smaller upfront investment.
On the other hand, Kuntz is very happy to have Leap Motion in his surgeries. Maybe this technology will simply have to go to the dogs.