While there are already surgical training systems that use VR (virtual reality) headsets to "place" students in an interactive computer-generated operating room, a new simulator goes a step further. It incorporates haptic feedback, allowing users to actually feel the pressure exerted by digital tissue.

Developed by London-based FundamentalVR, the Fundamental Surgery simulator is based around a centrally-hosted software platform, which is accessed via subscriptions starting at US$350 a month. Universities and hospitals utilizing the service can supply their own third-party PCs/laptops, VR headsets and dual haptic feedback arms, or purchase them in a package from the company.

When using the system, students see and hear the sights and sounds of various operations, which respond to their actions as they manipulate virtual surgical tools by moving corresponding real-world handles attached to the feedback arms. As those tools press, probe or cut into the computer-animated flesh and bone, the arms push back against the user's hands with "submillimeter accuracy," replicating the resistance that a surgeon would encounter when actually performing the procedure.

The system additionally assesses individual users' performance, offering feedback on how they could improve, and allowing them to track their progress over time. Like a flight simulator, it can also be programmed to introduce complications, such as unexpected bleeding or abnormal anatomy.

Fundamental Surgery is currently being introduced in the US, with a focus on simulated orthopedic procedures. A wider variety of operations will be introduced next year.

Haptic feedback, incidentally, is already used to provide force feedback to surgeons performing actual laparoscopic surgery.

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