After Google’s developer conference, I/O 2012, when Sergey Brin kicked off the famous high-velocity announcement of Glass, the theoretical notion of wearable computing became a reality. It did not take long for the device to make its way into the operating room (with the patient’s consent, of course), and spread to other applications in healthcare. Today, our MedTech Boston Glass Challenge has high hopes to push the boundaries for clinical innovations on the platform.
As early submissions pour in, we’ve received many inquiries on using Glass in the field of ophthalmology as a diagnostic or surgical aid. We are excited to see what new experiences you will design for Glass, and hope to answer any questions along the way. I should mention that as a health technology professional, I can only comment on the technical feasibility of building applications in this space. With that said, let’s dive right in.
When beginning the thinking about using Glass for any medical use case it will be important to understand the hardware and functions of the device as it relates to ophthalmology. For a full walkthrough of how to use Glass, watch these videos and for a teardown of the device head over to Scott & Star’s hardware closeups.
The three main components of interest are the glass prism, inward facing IR sensor, and external camera:
The glass prism acts as a heads up display which focuses the image directly on the retina. I have included a helpful diagram (below) from Martin Missfeldt that details how the internal projector displays the image and position considerations when wearing Glass. The image itself is a 640×360 LCoS display which appears as a 25 inch high resolution screen from eight feet away.This prism display has a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9. In contrast, LCDs used for optical ultrasounds or other medical uses generally have a resolution of 1024×768 or greater and a standard aspect ratio of 4:3. When designing views for Glass it is important to keep this difference in mind so that the images do not appear distorted or stretched.
There is an inward facing infrared sensor for “wink detection.” It is also used to determine if Glass is on your face or not. Contrary to popular believe this sensor cannot be used for eye tracking. Still the developer / hacker community has found a way to enable this functionality for as little as $25 and some time in the workshop with a 3D printer. The cheap hack expands the uses for Glass as a research tool to study oculomotor behavior and cognitive visual function, though currently limited to tracking diagnostic markers on the right eye. The inbuilt wink function currently allows the Glass user to take pictures using the external camera.
The external camera is a 5 megapixel camera that is able to take pictures at 2560 x 1888 with a fixed focal length of 3mm and an aperture of f/2.5. I would defer to the expertise of Lucien Engelen, who is the first European Glass Explorer in healthcare.
Key findings of his research included:
Tele-consultation is possible—depending on the available bandwidth—during operative procedures.
A stabilizer should be added to the video function to prevent choppy transmission when a surgeon looks to screens or colleagues.
Battery life can be easily extended with the use of an external battery.
Controlling the device and/or programs from another device is needed for some features because of sterile environment.
A protocol or checklist displayed on the screen of Glass can be helpful during procedures.
One interesting finding of his research explains that when using Glass for surgery, the optimal viewing angle should be oriented lower as shown in the figure below. From Engelen’s research it is clear that Glass has practical applications for consultation and telemedicine, but in its current configuration is not optimized for capturing diagnostic quality images.
Glass has already been recognized for use in optometry with a Google Glass Eye Test developed by EzContacts.com. The app allows you to test your vision using a series of images and voice commands (again, only for the right eye).
Given the novelty of Glass and the few applications available, there is a clear market opportunity to develop practical applications for ophthalmologists and other medical professionals.
If you have your own interesting ideas for a clinical application of Google Glass, please submit your pitch to our Google Glass Contest. All clinicians are welcome.
Nayan Jain is a Presidential Innovation Fellow. He was the Director of Mobile Technology at Audax and collaborated to build MedTuner, which was won first at the 2012 Health 2.0 Developers’ World Cup in San Francisco, CA. Mr. Jain was most recently selected by Google to be a Glass Explorer and is looking forward to building wearable experiences that will help improve lives and patient outcomes. He graduated with a BS in Computational Media, primarily focused on Human Computer Interaction and Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
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