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Spotting veins using AI

NUHS announced that a team under it has developed AI software that can be used with Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 AR headset to detect patient’s veins. Image credit: NUHS

Technology is providing a helping hand to medical doctors and healthcare operators. One area is helping in finding the veins of a patient. Normally nurses (and doctors) do not have any problem in finding a vein in the arm to draw blood or inject drugs. In a few patients, however, finding a vein is tricky and this result in several stabs on the arm, something that is clearly not appreciated by the patient.

Having a sensitive thermal sensor that can appreciate the tiny difference of temperature of the skin caused by blood flowing beneath can help in detecting the veins (watch the clip). A software analyses the data and transform them into an image that is projected on the arm identifying veins (and arteries) underneath the skin (arteries are deeper in the arm so they are more difficult to spot via thermal analyses).

Through Augmented Reality the doctor can see the veins below the skin. Detection makes use of AI to interpret the data. Image credit: NUHS

Now a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore department of Health (NUHS) developed a system that promises to be more accurate than using a thermal sensor.

A sticker is pasted on the patient arm to let the software know the area of interest (like the little squares at the corners of a QR code). A beam of infrared light illuminates the area and the refracted light is captured by an infrared sensor. The data are analysed by a software using artificial intelligence (image recognition software) and converted into a graphic rendering of the veins that looks layered on the arm when looked through a HoloLens 2 AR headset.

According to the researchers this approach is more sensitive than the systems already available on the market. The disadvantage is that it requires the doctor/nurse to wear the HoloLens in addition to the illuminating and sensing device.

We can expect more and more use of AR in the coming years in the healthcare domain. Once AR devices will become as easy to wear as a normal pair of glasses our relation with the cyberspace will change shifting our perception towards a Digital Reality, bits and atoms will become one and the same.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.