Henrietta-Based Vuzix Makes Augmented Reality a Reality

Reality glasses made by a Henrietta-based company could change the way orthopedic surgeons perform operations

By Todd Etshman

Knee replacement surgery utilizing augmented reality glasses made by Vuzix Corporation, a Henrietta-based company, could change the way orthopedic surgeons perform the operation in the future.

Currently, around 600,000 people in the United States need knee replacement surgery per year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. will develop osteoarthritis in one or both knees during their lifetime.

As Rochester orthopedic surgeon Thomas Myers explains, it can take a long time for American medical procedure to catch up with new technology but the augmented reality glasses that allow for extremely precise bone cutting and to guide a surgeon through the procedure was performed successfully in Paris earlier this summer.  Virtual reality has also come out of the operating room and into therapy, you can look into At-home therapeutic Virtual Reality if you are interested.

The Vuzix glasses display essential information to the orthopedic surgeon’s field of view as she navigates through the procedure. By attaching a metal marker with a bar code to bone the exact location of the operation is seen through the AR glasses.

“They’re deadly accurate and allow the physician to know exactly where he is in putting the knee back together. There’s no more sloppiness,” Vuzix President and CEO Paul Travers explains.

The compact wireless glasses have gone through years of improvement at the company’s manufacturing plant in Henrietta. They’re lighter, more comfortable, significantly less expensive and more accurate than ever before, Travers says.

“It’s a race horse of a pair of glasses. It’s a hands-free computer with the processing power of a smart phone with a camera,” Travers says of the technology that has the potential to improve accuracy and outcomes for patients.

Vuzix augmented reality glasses are already found in many healthcare places these days, including the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, nursing home patient care, and medical education.

When Travers, an electrical engineer, left Kodak and started the company in 1997, he couldn’t imagine the innovative ways its augmented reality technology would be utilized a couple decades later.

“Healthcare has quickly emerged to become an important business segment for Vuzix, including telemedicine and telehealth solutions related to patient care, training and surgery as well as providing technicians with hands-free support within medical facilities,” Travers says.

The company is working with Verizon on a high bandwidth version of AR glasses to be used by first responders in ambulance vans by next year.

Also this summer, the University of Louisville School of Medicine utilized Vuzix M400 glasses for emergency response, medical evaluation and training and in the care of nursing home and aging in place patients.

The hungry for innovation healthcare field is just one area the use of the company’s augmented reality smart glasses are found today.

Others include its use as an improved means of virtual meeting, training in many fields, quality assurance and inspection, warehousing and inventory, manufacturing orders and placement and in many more applications to come.

Here in Rochester, doctors use AR technology in training and education but aren’t sure when they’ll be using it in live surgery.

As the associate director of the University of Rochester Medical Health Lab, Michael Hasselberg, explains, AR glasses overlay a specific real world environment that can be seen by others anywhere in the world. Virtual reality creates a whole new world entirely.

“Their applications are very different in health care, he says. “AR is the stepping stone to virtual reality. Where AR is used the most today is in the medical training of students,” Hasselberg says.

Medical students can put the glasses on and literally see the human heart come out of the pages of a textbook.

It’s also used to help educate patients understand their surgical procedure and the parts of the anatomy affected.

The University of Rochester Medical Center has been testing Vuzix AR technology to determine its utility. Using Vuzix AR technology, a distant supervising physician can look in on a procedure and circle a tumor or anything else the resident physician should address.

Nurses can use it, too, and a specialist can be there remotely looking on and determining where a nurse should focus her assessment.

“We’ve been testing it out like that,” Hasselberg says. “AR is easy to use in training. The software behind it is very seamless. Vuzix is innovative and making their hardware more user friendly and more comfortable to use for longer periods of time.”

Elsewhere, AR is used in vein visualization to avoid having to repeatedly stick patients with needles until a vein can be located.

Automated reality functions also include being the basis for the extremely popular Pokemon Go game.

Myers wants to work with engineers to make a knee joint model that will feel more realistic and have an AR overlay especially since the use of cadavers in training is expensive. Even getting training participants physically together in one place is expensive. AR and VR can help lower those costs.

Hasselberg says a logistical problem for new AR and VR uses is that it isn’t currently reimbursable or FDA approved. “But, I do think it’s where we’ll be at in five years,” he says. Just as global apps are very main stream today, touchless AR and VR applications will be soon.”