From Call of Duty to Surgical Simulators

February 16, 2013 – 2:54 pm

Jeffrey Berkley, PhD, CEO of Mimic Technologies.

You can learn a thing or two from videogames. Just ask Jeffrey Berkley, PhD, CEO, Chairman and founder of Mimic Technologies Inc. (Seattle, WA, USA).

Developer of simulation software for the da Vinci surgical robot, Mimic has just released MSim 2.0 for its dV-Trainer simulator. The new simulation platform, which incorporates videogame technology, has been getting rave reviews. In fact, it was named best in show in the commercial interest category at the International Meeting on Simulation and Healthcare in Orlando, FL, USA. I asked Berkley about the connective tissue linking videogames to surgical simulation.

“The problem with a lot of surgery simulators is that they can be pretty boring,” says Berkley. “The incentives and peer competition common in gaming can be leveraged so that users of our simulation systems will be practicing and getting better at using the robot while being entertained. Sure, it’s all about knot tying, suturing and other surgical-related tasks, but the way the simulation is laid out makes it entertaining.”

This is not a videogame, or is it?

The new simulation software notably makes use of fully programmable rendering pipelines that allow advanced shading. “You get certain reflections off the instruments when the light hits them in a particular way,” explains Berkley. “You can model the glistening of wet tissue versus dry instruments, and vice versa.” While Mimic is taking its lead from videogame technology, surgical simulation has its own challenges, he adds.

“Deformation and tissue modelling is not very important for videogame developers, but it is for us,” says Berkley. “If we teach somebody that tissue stretches a certain way before failure and we don’t get it right, that could have terrible consequences. We are challenged by having to be more realistic than a videogame, but on a much smaller budget,” says Berkley. “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot from videogame developers in terms of rendering,” he adds. Berkley has also learned a little something from that industry when it comes to marketing, and upped his game accordingly.

At medical conferences, Mimic organises tournaments where physicians compete with each other using its simulators. “The game is pretty simple. It involves stacking blocks and dominoes, and whoever creates the highest stack wins. We have qualifying rounds on four or five simulators, with the top eight going into the final competition,” says Berkley. Practitioners have taken to competitive robotics with a passion, he adds, and that has been something of a surprise. “You get surgeons competing in the final rounds who have performed thousands of  medical procedures, and they’re literally shaking as they build their stacks!”

MSim 2.0 was launched commercially on 11 February and was introduced earlier this year at the Global Congress on Minimally Invasive Gynecology. Additional demos—and videogame smackdowns—are scheduled at other major meetings this year.

—Norbert Sparrow

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