Virtual Reality Technology for Training Microsurgeons

German Federal Government supports cooperation between University of Heidelberg and Mannheim-based company VRmagic GmbH

Mannheim. The Mannheim-based company VRmagic GmbH is developing a virtual reality simulator for microsurgery training in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science V at the University of Heidelberg under the direction of Professor Reinhard Männer. The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is supporting this cooperation with a total grant of 315,000 Euros over a period of two years.

The aim of the project is to develop a computer-based training environment in which medical specialists can practice microsurgical operations without any risk to patients. Virtual reality technology will be used to generate realistic, interactive 3D scenarios in which trainee surgeons can perform complete operations and train microsurgical skills in a targeted way. This includes hand-eye coordination when handling operating instruments under the microscope, joining vessels of millimeter size and exposing a vascular tree. The primary application fields of these surgical techniques are plastic surgery, neurosurgery, bypass surgery, gynecology, urology as well as maxillofacial surgery.

The design of the simulator will reproduce the real operating situation: the user will see the simulated operating scenario through a model operating microscope and use original instruments to interact with the virtual tissue. As part of the project, a highly-precise optical tracking system will be developed that tracks the instrument movements and forwards this information to the computer system. A further challenge is development of powerful simulation algorithms that calculate the resultant tissue behavior with a time delay less than the limit of perception.

The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is supporting the technology development project as part of the Central Innovation Program SME (ZIM) through the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF). The Department of Computer Science V at the University of Heidelberg and VRmagic GmbH have already worked together successfully many times in the past. In 2001, the company was spun off from the university department after development of the eye surgery simulator Eyesi in the interdisciplinary research project “Virtual technology and medical simulations”.

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