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Seeing the Invisible? There’s an App for That.

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Over at the New York Times, Erik Olsen reports on a new visual amplification process with lots of applications, including checking premature babies’ pulses without touching them:

A 30-second video of a newborn baby shows the infant silently snoozing in its crib, his breathing barely perceptible. But when the video is run through an algorithm that can amplify both movement and color, the baby’s face blinks crimson with each tiny heartbeat. […]

The system works by homing in on specific pixels in a video over the course of time. Frame-by-frame, the program identifies minute changes in color and then amplifies them up to 100 times, turning, say, a subtle shift toward pink to a bright crimson.

The team behind this software is working to turn it into a smartphone app, at which point it could be used by, say, paramedics to monitor the vital signs of those trapped in car accidents or under rubble after an earthquake.

According to the Guardian, a new iPhone app called “Touch Surgery” is also changing the practice of medicine. The software allows surgeons in training to practice their technique:

Described as a “mobile surgical simulator”, it is not to be confused with the fun-for-all-the-family game Operation. Remember the nervous thrill of trying to remove a miniature plastic rib with a pair of tweezers without setting the buzzer off? Well, Touch Surgery takes it to a whole new level: every step of each procedure is animated in graphic 3D detail.

Touch Surgery’s developers created the app in response to a recent European directive reducing the number of hours doctors are allowed to work. They thought the app could help doctors make up for lost training time. The developers may be on to something: a recent study published in the medical journal PLOS One found that playing Wii helps improve a surgeon’s effectiveness.

An simple computer program that lets doctors see the invisible. A smartphone game designed to make surgeons better. These are just two tastes of the kinds of innovations that are helping to transform health care.

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