Virtual Surgery For Doctors In Training

There is no medical specialty as rigorous as surgery. Surgical interns are required to take thousands more hours of training than general practitioners, and they must continually learn new techniques. A Woburn (Mass.) company hopes to discover whether computer-generated "virtual" environments can speed up the education process.

Under a $100,000 contract from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Exos Inc. is developing a surgical training tool that consists of a robot gripper inside a box, plus software that creates simulations of body organs on a computer screen. When a trainee inserts a scalpel into the box, the robot grabs on, sensing the human's hand movements and projecting them onto the computer screen, where the virtual scalpel and body parts are displayed. The point is to recreate the feel of an actual operation. As a trainee slices through tissue on the screen, for example, the robot slows the scalpel down. Hit a bone, and the robot stops the scalpel. ARPA hopes to use the simulator to train military doctors.