WIMTACH partners with Marion Surgical

Originally from a filmmaking background, when Ben Sainsbury purchased his first Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, he was fascinated by the expansive potential of the immersive experience of this technology and motivated to explore this world further. As a result, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Ontario Tech University. His studies introduced him to virtual reality training programs for surgeons, and it inspired him to center his research on developing a virtual camera system and a virtual reality surgical simulator for urologists. The launch of Marion Surgical was the culmination of his efforts.

After Sainsbury and his team won a funding bid to build a simulator for robotic surgery, he realized that a game would be best suited for this project and as a longtime industry partner of WIMTACH, he believed that WIMTACH would provide the best resources to successfully achieve this goal. He explained that a game offers the flexibility to transform different training programs readily, while also encouraging surgeons to have fun. “The other thing is … a lot of surgeons are gamers,” he said. “The gamers in some cases are better at performing surgeries in our simulator than some surgeons so there is some correlation there where becoming a gamer (where using video games) makes you better as a surgeon because of the hand-eye coordination,” he said. Since gaming is common within the community of surgeons, this game offers a stress-free environment for them to develop hard motor skills to apply to robotic consoles for surgery.

To develop the framework for what would become the final product for this vision, WIMTACH initially held a Hackathon event where Centennial College student participants were presented with the challenge of developing a training program in the form of a game, using the same tools and mechanics that are typical in robotics surgery. Students presented different ideas and ultimately, their innovations were able to help the Marion Surgical team to develop the foundations of an idea for a novel game concept. “[The students] were great. In a very short period of time, small teams were able to really kind of explore what was possible. So, I thought that they did a great job … it kind of motivated us to work on a larger project with WIMTACH,” he said. 

Currently, the WIMTACH research team and the Marion Surgical team are developing three Virtual Reality (VR) games based on an existing Marion Surgical VR simulator and the ideas resulting from the Hackathon. The project aims to assist surgeons with improving their dexterity and hand-eye coordination to ultimately enhance their precision and movement on the controllers used in a surgical laparoscopic machine. The game has several features and customization options to tailor training for specific case needs as well as increasing levels of difficulty to gradually improve the skills of users. Users are also able to receive immediate feedback on their performance to identify areas of improvement and measure their progress over time. “It’s going pretty well,” he said. Sainsbury is pleased with the work of Professor George Kougioumtzoglou and the students who are involved in the project and noted that the ideas and innovations created by the students have been helpful. “They’ve been coming up with really awesome new ideas that breathe fresh light into some of the concepts and ideas that we had and making them tangible,” he said.

In the long run, he hopes to have a vertical slice of the game to create a finished product. “We hope to take their code and what they have contributed to the project and add it to our core project,” he said. More, Sainsbury noted that Marion Surgical will eventually develop a separate gaming brand with other specialty games and the company will also expand its Haptic device and the procedures available on their robotic platform. Right now, he is pleased with the progression of the development project and he added that the collaboration with WIMTACH has been quite valuable for his team. “[WIMTACH] have been a great resource for us,” he said. “The students were at a pretty good knowledge level … they could tackle complex bits right away so we feel like they are collaborators … so we are valuing the contributions they are making at the moment.”

For further information, please send press inquiries to ptyagi@centennialcollege.ca

Aug, 11, 2023