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Sydney engineers develop smart glove to train young surgeons

Australian engineers have invented a surgical smart glove built with low-cost sensors that can record hand movements in fine detail, giving trainees and mentors data to evaluate and improve on intricate procedures.

The Western Sydney University research team are working with surgeons and students at Liverpool Hospital to develop the technology, which they anticipate will augment rather than replace traditional surgical training.

Dr Gough Lui, who led the work, believed the device could objectively measure the intricate hand manoeuvres of surgeons, allowing for clear and actionable feedback for trainees.

“Training surgeons in a more objective and evidence-based manner ensures evidence-based competency,” Lui said.

“Teachers will be able to give precise feedback on minute details post-surgery, and students can analyse their performance.”

The researchers said surgical techniques have advanced significantly in the past century, but surgical training still fundamentally relies on observation, with mentors looking over the shoulder of trainees.

Technology like simulators is also considered expensive and have limited uptake.

The gloves developed by Lui and his team collect motion data and relay them to a smartphone or computer, where each tiny movement is recorded and visualised.

The gloves are not a replacement for trainers, but instead augment their ability to give advice.

The researchers have been working with surgeons at Liverpool Hospital to ensure the device meets the exacting requirements of surgical skills training.

“A surgeon’s hands do delicate work, and the prototype needed to enhance that without adding bulk or distraction to the glove,” Lui said.

To illustrate this, the first model had wires and sensors on the fingertips, but later prototypes used sensors on the forearm and the back of the hand to capture force and motion data without interfering with the surgeon’s hands.

Next steps include developing a mobile app so students can take the gloves home for practice.

Beyond surgery, the team hope the gloves could help other professionals who rely on manual dexterity, such as musicians and artists.

Development of the surgical glove has been supported by South Western Sydney Local Health District, Liverpool Hospital, The Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research and the James N. Kirby Foundation.

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