London startup FundamentalVR claims its surgery simulation technology, which merges VR with haptics, can be acquired for less than the cost of a single cadaver.

The company’s Surgical Haptic Intelligence Engine (SHIE) is designed to mimic the feel of operating on various types of human tissue, from subcutaneous fat to muscle and bone. Combined with off-the-shelf VR devices and standard haptic hardware, the platform can act as an immersive training tool for surgeons in waiting. Already available in the UK, the platform has now launched in the US, where the initial rollout will feature training packages for orthopaedic surgery, including spinal pedicle screw placement, posterior hip replacement and total knee arthroplasty.

“It involves creating ‘Haptic Actions’ which define the interactions between the surgical tools and the patient’s virtual anatomy,” Richard Vincent, CEO of FundamentalVR, told The Engineer. “To do this we create haptic baselines through close consultation with our Global Medical Panel, senior clinicians, comprising a range of surgical specialisms and then, with our unique calibration tools we are able to refine these through the development process to achieve the appropriate interaction. This requires a deep understanding of tissue behaviour under various conditions aligned with deep physics and mathematical computation.”

Current training for surgeons is largely confined to classroom lessons and viewing cadaver-based teaching, with limited hands-on time actually spent on cadavers by students themselves. According to FundameltalVR, a single cadaver can cost upwards of £10,000 and can only be used to train between four and six students. While haptic surgery simulation solutions do exist, these can cost in the region of £80,000, and less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s surgeons enjoy access to them. In the US, the company is pitching an entry point of $350 per month for its SaaS (Software as a Service) simulation platform.

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“Our mission is to democratise surgical training by placing safe, affordable and authentic simulations within arm’s reach of every surgeon in the world,” said Vincent.

As well as being compatible with standard VR and haptic equipment, FundamentalVR says that its software is future-proofed, designed to work in tandem with new developments in the fast-growing haptics space.

“As we continue to develop and deploy our Haptic Intelligence Engine (SHIE) we are in effect building a hardware agnostic haptic map of the human body, which as other hardware solutions such as haptic gloves become economically viable for wide-scale medical use, we will be able to port directly into.”

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