3D scanner could aid accuracy in surgery, have other medical uses

By | December 1, 2019

New scanning technology created by engineering researchers at a Canadian university could help improve surgical procedures as one of its applications.

The scanner uses technology created at the University of Waterloo that in essence creates a three-dimensional video camera. It’s able to capture full-field three-dimensional surface-shape data in real time.

The high-resolution technology uses algorithms to compute surface shapes at the same frame rate as video—the researchers say it has a measurement accuracy of about 0.1 millimeter, and it has the capability of capturing images of moving or static objects.


Jonathan Kofman, left, believes the scanning technology has multiple applications in healthcare.

The scanner can be mounted on a tripod or robot, or be hand-held. Used during surgery, it can take real-time measurements of an organ or tissues that may have shifted or changed shape since images were taken before the operation began.

“We’ve been able to measure the shape of a surface in real-time, whether it’s a rigid or a deforming surface,” says Jonathan Kofman, director of the University’s Intelligent Human-Machine Systems and 3D Imaging Laboratories.

During brain surgery, part of the skull may be removed exposing the brain, which changes shape during the operation. Since preoperative MRI images will no longer be accurate, it’s critical to have up-to-date measurements for the surgical procedure.

“If you’re looking at tissues, you can measure their surface coordinates while the shape is changing,” Kofman says.

The technology developed by Kofman, a systems design engineering professor, and his doctoral student Xinran Lui could also improve robotic surgery. “The surgeon operating a robotic system may now see an overlay of the 3D shape of tissues,” Kofman adds. “They can rotate the shape and look at it from different viewpoints.”

Other medical applications of the Waterloo researchers’ 3D scanner include monitoring the progress of treatment of conditions of facial deformity, where muscles on part of the face become weak or paralyzed.

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