Author: Cheryl Eslinger

Medicine has become a computer integrated high technology industry. VR and telepresence may have much to offer with its human computer-interfaces, 3D visualization and modeling tools.

Information visualization

Medical professionals have access to a volume of information and data formats including MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CAT (computerized axial tomography), EEG (electroencephalogram), ultrasound and X-rays [NILAN93]. VR's graphics and output peripherals allows users to view large amounts of information by navigating through 3D models. For example, radiation planning can be aided by adjusting virtual laser beams on a virtual body and seeing how well they will converge on a tumor. In other applications, see-through view glasses can be used to superimpose live ultrasound images of a fetus onto a pregnant woman's abdomen. See-through displays could also be used to view realtime information such as patients' vital signs during surgery.

Motion analysis

The advanced input sensors of VR can be used for motion analysis, rehabilitation and physical therapy. Motion analysis can help train athletes to prevent injuries and improve performance. For example the Boston Red Sox used a data glove to analyze the team's wind up and pitch [DUTTON92]. In rehabilitation and physical therapy, full body suits may pinpoint motor control problems. In other applications, virtual environments could be adjusted to the level of the user. For example, it may be easier to learn how to juggle if you started in an environment with reduced gravity.


Advanced 3D modeling tools can be used to develop useful models of the human body and design artificial organs. Medical professionals can use VR to study the body by navigating in and around it. For example a 3D model of leg motion could be used to observe muscle dynamics while peering inside at the joints. Young surgeons could practice operations on VR cadavers, experienced surgeons could learn new techniques. At the University of North Carolina, molecular models help biochemists visualize how well drugs will work by allowing them to maneuver molecules in space and actually feel the resistances between them.


Telepresence techniques could allow surgeons to conduct robotic surgery from anywhere in the world offering increased accessibility to specialists. Prototypes have been tested that let the surgeons experience all the sensory feedback and motor control that would be felt in person [DUTTON92]. Telepresence could also be used to protect the medical professionals form potentially harmful situations such as AIDS exposure and battlefields.


Dutton, G., "Medicine Gets Closer to Virtual Reality." IEEE Software, September 1992, p.108.

Nilan, M. S., Silverstein, J. L., and Lankes, R. D., "The VR Technology Agenda in Medicine." Virtual Reality 93:Special Report, 1993, p.33-7.

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Human Interface Technology Laboratory