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UAB virtual reality surgery combines Google Glass, VIPAAR technologies

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – A surgical team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently performed one of the first surgeries combining a virtual augmented reality technology and Google Glass, the computer with an optical head-mounted display.

UAB says combining the VIPAAR (short for Virtual Interactive Presence in Augmented Reality) and Google Glass technologies could signal a key step toward developing useful, practical telemedicine. The pairing’s potential is garnering attention, most recently on a report on the CBS Evening News.

VIPPAR, a firm located in Birmingham’s Innovation Depot, is commercializing the UAB-developed virtual reality technology, which provides two-way, interactive video conferencing.

UAB orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brent Ponce
UAB orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brent Ponce

Here is how the combination worked: On Sept. 12, UAB orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brent Ponce performed a shoulder replacement procedure at UAB Highlands Hospital in Birmingham. Ponce wore Google Glass during the operation.

Observing the surgery and interacting with Dr. Ponce during the procedure was Dr. Phani Dantuluri, who was in his office in Atlanta. The Google Glass’ built-in camera transmitted images from the surgical area to Dr. Dantuluri, and the VIPAAR technology allowed him to see exactly what Dr. Ponce was seeing in the Birmingham operating room.

During the procedure, Dr. Ponce could see Dr. Dantuluri’s hands and surgical instruments in his heads-up display as part of the merged-reality environment.

“Using VIPAAR, a remote surgeon is able to put his or her hands into the surgical field and provide collaboration and assistance,” Dr. Ponce said. He added: “It’s real-time, real-life, right there, as opposed to a Skype or video conference call, which allows for dialogue back and forth but is not really interactive.”

UAB physicians believe this kind of technology could enhance patient care by permitting a veteran surgeon to remotely provide expertise to less experienced colleagues.


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