A top surgeon is carrying out the world’s first live-streamed virtual reality (VR) operation on a human patient with colon cancer on Thursday.
The operation is taking place at 1 p.m. GMT (8 a.m. EST) in a London hospital.
People who want to watch it can download the “VRinOR” app from Apple’s App store or the Google Play store and watch the operation via a VR viewer such as Samsung’s Gear VR or Google Cardboard.
Virtual reality allows people to put on a special headset and be immersed in the experience. They will be able to look around the operating theatre in 360 degrees and see what is going on.
The surgeon behind the project, Shafi Ahmed, who works the UK’s National Health Service, said the idea is to boost medical education around the world.
“Smartphones are easily accessible to most people, connectivity is improving and everything is in place to make that connection more viable and use it in a way to make that better for education,” Ahmed told CNBC in a phone interview on Thursday ahead of the surgery.
“Virtual reality is a simple headset with a simple app, and this will then suddenly let the world be taught and trained together. That will provide care across the globe.”
Ahmed referred to a big problem highlighted by a study in The Lancet, that 5 billion people do not have access to safe and affordable surgery. The hope is that projects like this can provide education to emerging countries.
Still, virtual reality is in its infancy, though the industry is looking at strong growth. Shipments of augmented reality and VR headsets are forecast to grow 15 times to 96 million units by 2020, at a value of $14.5 billion from its current level, according to CCS Insight.
Theoretically, prices of headsets should come down. But there are already cheap offerings on the market such as Google’s Cardboard which costs $15, and Samsung’s Gear VR which retails at $99.
The operation will be filmed on two 360 degree cameras with multiple cameras and the live streaming will be handled by a company called Mativision which specializes in this.
‘Feel the blood’
Ahmed has grander plans as technology evolves, to the point where technology can be used to help students “feel” an actual body through virtual reality.
“The idea is you put your headset on, you will see a cadaver, a VR body that is realistic. Around you will have the theatre trolley and tray set. You can pick up the scalpel and it feels solid. You can make a cut, you can see the blood, and feel it and it becomes real. That simulation will be the best solution we have,” Ahmed told CNBC.
This technology is already being developed and often involves wearing gloves that emit vibrations in a way to make a person feel as if they are touching a particular.
Image credit: CC by Army Medicine