By Ali Padilla
Dr. Cristian Luciano, a faculty member in the department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UIC and Vice President of the company ImmersiveTouch, Inc., has taught courses in haptics and augmented reality through the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and Biomedical Visualization graduate program. He will be teaching and lecturing in the BVIS program this Fall. BVIS students and alumni have collaborated with Dr. Luciano on Research Projects and in developing visualizations for the ImmersiveTouch simulator.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Luciano and speak with him about his involvement in the development of haptic and augmented reality technology and the role Biomedical Visualization plays in this field.
Ali Padilla: Hello Cristian, and thank you very much for meeting with me!
Dr. Cristian Luciano: Hi Ali. Sure, I’m happy to do it!
AP: Could you tell us a little bit about your academic background?
CL: I earned by Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Engineering from the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (Argentina). I received my Masters of Science in Computer Science (CS), my Masters of Science in Industrial Engineering, as well as my PhD in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from UIC. I am currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UIC, and the Vice-president of Engineering at ImmersiveTouch, Inc.
AP: What does “haptics” or “haptic feedback” refer to?
CL: Haptics is the technology that recreates tactile and kinesthetic sensations by a robotic device, which is able to track human motion and generate force and torque that can be perceived by the user manipulating the haptic device.
AP: How did you get involved in the development of haptic technology?
CL: I got involved in haptics in 2002 when I was conducting R&D of a haptic and virtual reality dental simulator. Since then I have been working on haptics-based surgical simulators in multiple medical specialties from Neurosurgery to Orthopedics, from Ophthalmology to Anesthesiology.
AP: Could you explain what exactly the ImmersiveTouch is?
CL: The ImmersiveTouch is a high-performance haptic and augmented reality system that combines haptics, human tracking, and 3D visualization to simulate surgical procedures. This simulation platform is able to create a virtual tridimensional model of a patient anatomy, so surgeons can learn and practice how to perform a surgery operating on a hologram-like virtual patient. Virtual surgical instruments manipulated by the surgeons provide haptic sensations similar to the ones experienced with real patients in the operating room.
This technology, developed as part of my PhD thesis, has recently been patented by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and licensed to a spin-off company, ImmersiveTouch, Inc., for its commercialization. The simulator has already been successfully deployed at several renowned medical institutions in the US (Johns Hopkins University, Weill-Cornell Medical College, Medical Education & Research Institute, etc.), and many countries around the world, including Canada, Italy, Ukraine, China, and Saudi Arabia.
AP: Integrating haptic feedback and virtual reality into the medical profession could have many potential benefits. What are the projected uses of this technology?
CL: The versatility of the ImmersiveTouch platform facilitated the design and implementation of multiple surgical simulation modules, including ventriculostomy, vertebroplasty, open and percutaneous spinal fixation, rhizotomy, percutaneous needle insertion, central line placement, tumor removal, lumbar puncture, epidural injection, and hematoma removal among others. We continue expanding the number of medical specialties and surgical procedures that can be simulated with this technology.
AP: What is the ultimate goal of the ImmersiveTouch technology?
CL: The ultimate goal of the ImmersiveTouch technology is to improve patient safety and surgical outcomes. One of the main areas that can significantly benefit from this technology is the training of medical and surgical residents. Thanks to a library of multiple virtual patients created for the ImmersiveTouch simulator, residents can learn and practice performing many surgical procedures with a wide range of difficulties, allowing them to be exposed to easy, moderate, and complex cases. The virtual patient library has been created from medical imagery (CT and MRI data) of real patients, giving the trainees more realistic anatomies than traditional part-task training manikins. Patient-specific simulation can also be performed using this technology to facilitate pre-operative surgical planning of unusual or complicated cases before the real surgery, with the objective of analyzing different surgical approaches and foresee possible complications.
AP: How and why is Biomedical Visualization important to the technology you are developing?
CL: Pre-processing of medical imagery of real patients, including volume segmentation, surface mesh generation, re-topology, and real-time rendering optimization, as well as 3D modeling of surgical instruments and human anatomy, are just few examples of the important contributions of Biomedical Visualization to the ImmersiveTouch technology. The perfect combination of art and science provided by BVIS is an invaluable asset and an essential component in the medical education and surgical simulation supported by ImmersiveTouch.
AP: From your perspective, what can we hope to see/develop in the next few years as far as Virtual Reality/Haptic technologies? How will these innovations be helpful in the field of medicine?
CL: Ultra high-resolution stereoscopic displays for fully immersive 3D visualization of medical imagery, high-performance mobile computing for accurate and fast dynamics simulation, highly-precise human motion tracking for natural computer interaction, and highly-dexterous haptic devices and surgical robots for better manipulation of surgical instruments are some of the future virtual reality and haptics technologies that will revolutionize the field of medicine. In the next few decades, I envision to be able to merge surgical training, pre-surgical planning, and surgical treatment in a common fully-integrated virtual reality and haptics-guided robotic operating room that will provide surgeons better and richer patient information and surgical assistance with the ultimate goal of improving patient safety and surgical outcomes.
BVIS: Dr. Luciano, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me about your work. It will be very exciting to see this technology develop, and the role that Biomedical Visualization will play as it evolves!
CL: Thank YOU for the interview! It was a pleasure!
For more information on ImmersiveTouch, Inc., visit their website: http://www.immersivetouch.com/.