The Xbox Kinect in healthcare - a winning combination
Games consoles like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect have revolutionised at-home fitness, filtering into the exercise industry with their hugely popular workout games. Although they have proved a hit with tech-savvy consumers, there are hopes such technology could find a day-to-day use in the healthcare industry.
Microsoft Research is one of the teams facilitating the integration of gaming technology into the healthcare industry and the Xbox Kinect is one of the main tools in its arsenal.
The Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada is one hospital already using the Kinect in its operating rooms to eliminate hygiene and infection problems. The contactless control of the Kinect is enabling doctors and surgeons to view patient notes, scans and x-ray images without the need to touch surfaces that could be infected with bacteria, like a computer mouse or keyboard. This has reduced the time it takes to carry out operations and procedures as doctors do not have to continuously wash and disinfect their hands.
Meanwhile, Craig Mundie, Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer, recently told a medical conference the Xbox Kinect has the ability to revolutionise healthcare. Speaking at the Pacific Health Summit in June, Mundie discussed his vision that the Kinect could be used to provide group therapy sessions.
Mundie said he and his team were wondering, “What happens if you don’t want to put yourself in a game, what happens if you can send your avatar out to meet with avatar?”
Avatars are what Mudie’s whole idea is based on; the interaction of virtual character representations of patients and doctors. This type of communication gives patients the ability to participate in group therapy sessions under the anonymous guise of their avatar. “People want anonymity,” says Mudie, “but social contact is important.”
The Microsoft Research team have therefore created a system that combines touch, gesture and speech input so people can interact with the computer just as they would interact with another person.
“People are just sitting at home in front of their television, being projected into a three-dimensional environment where all their interactions; the spatial cues, the audio cues – they’re all correct so there’s a naturalness to it,” Mundie explains.
The technology is so advanced the doctor running the group therapy session will even be able to recognise which patients might need extra support, despite only meeting them in a virtual world. “Even though these are cartoon characters, if you get the animation of the eyes, eyebrows and some elements of the face and the mouth correct, most of the major human emotions are accurately portrayed,” Mundie told his audience.
Although the idea of being able to interact with a doctor virtually rather than physically is fairly out-there, Mundie is passionate about his concept: “We want to change the way people interact with computers. It's a great tool and if you can master the tool it's like mastering a musical instrument; you can do some amazing things.”
Craig Mundie discussing the potential use of avatars in healthcare:
The Xbox Kinect in use at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Canada: