SYDNEY, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Australian researchers are creating electronic "smart" gloves which should ultimately enable leading surgeons to pass on their hard-earned dextrous skills to trainees.
Biomedical engineer Gough Lui from the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University (WSU) told Xinhua on Thursday that the flexible and unobtrusive gloves contain minute electronics to record the subtle, fast and controled hand movements of experienced surgeons.
Then, when worn by trainees, the gloves collect motion data, including the tiniest of jitters, which is relayed to a screen, to see where the students' hand movements differ from their teachers'.
The motivation behind the gloves was a conversation about four years ago between Lui and one of the nation's most eminent surgeons and educators, WSU's Foundation Professor of Surgery and Clinical Dean Les Bokey.
They realized that surgery was requiring an ever-growing range of skills to handle modern techniques such as keyhole surgery with cameras and robotic surgery, yet teaching methods were not keeping pace.
Training generally remains the time-honored convention of the instructing surgeon standing over a student's shoulder to provide comments and advice during an operation.
"Often the surgeon might say, 'that wasn't very good,' but can't concretely articulate what is wrong," Lui said. "That's very frustrating when you're trying to master a skill."
One recent training advance has been surgical simulators but these elaborate devices, Lui notes, are "hugely expensive" and are not always accessible to the hospital trainees.
In contrast, Lui hopes the gloves will eventually be coupled with a smartphone app, so trainees will be able to practice tasks at home, for as little as 300 Australian dollars (about 225 U.S. dollars).
So far, the prototype gloves have garnered keen interest among surgical trainees and their teachers at Liverpool Hospital in western Sydney.
Meanwhile, work continues on creating the perfect glove. The next stage for Lui and his team is to find the best way for the gloves to seamlessly provide guidance because the screen visualizations can be distracting for students concentrating on difficult tasks.
Lui said alternatives include "haptic" feedback, such as a buzz to the fingertips, or some form of audio feedback.
Although he has an obvious passion for the gloves, the biomedical engineer is quick to note that he would not like to see trainees become overly reliant on them.
"In reality, human debriefing is always better than computer feedback alone," he said. "This is not a replacement for trainers, but it will augment their ability to give advice."
The glove prototypes are continuing to be trialed at Liverpool Hospital with more refined versions to have a pilot trial later this year.
Meanwhile, Lui has been pleasantly surprised to discover the gloves could have some unforeseen uses.
"We've already had requests from musicians asking if these gloves could help people become more skilled performers," he said. "The gloves could have a wider impact than we ever hoped." ■