Smart Glasses Make a Return to Health Care with the Vuzix M400

Although Google Glass, first released in 2012, offered many possibilities for use in surgery and other health care settings, it never became mainstream. Part of this failure stemmed from public worries over privacy and a sense of general creepiness, but part of it resulted from the technical limitations of that early generation of smart glasses.

A newer generation of this technology is represented by M400 Smart Glasses from Vuzix. I talked to CEO Paul Travers and Matt Margolis, Head of Business Development, about the uses health care teams are finding for the M400, and the technical advances that made these uses possible. Over those two decades, the size of silicon has decreased, CPUs have become more powerful, cameras like the one in the M400 have become very small and provide 4K video recording quality. These background advances have opened a new market in wearable computing, in the form of smart glasses for support of enterprise operations.

One configuration of the M400
One configuration of the M400

Modern Uses for Smart Glasses

The M400 includes a very high-resolution camera, a display built into the lenses, Bluetooth networking, and voice recognition. Thus, it can be controlled entirely through voice commands. The Vuzix managers listed several venues in health care where their product is in use, including at Johns Hopkins for practicing intubation and at University of Louisville Medical Center for remote consultations.

  • In emergency rooms and intensive care units, staff can call for help or talk to staff in another room without picking up a phone. This lets them keep both hands on the patient, and avoid the contamination caused by picking up a phone.
  • Surgery can use augmented reality through a solution developed by Pixee-medical based on the M400. It has already been used successfully for knee replacement surgery.
  • Emergency responders could use smart glasses to capture information about a patient and send it on to the hospital which will admit the patient.
  • Some hospitals create a special, sanitary room for the M400. A patient and clinician meet in the room, and the clinician uses the M400 to share data with a remote specialist, thus adding rich media possibilities to consultations. Remote consultations and telehealth visits around the world are possible with the M400. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) are among the users of the M400.

The glasses appear in dozens of facilities to assist with remote patient care, virtual rounds, patients in nursing homes, and training. In Taiwan, the M400 is being worn all the time by some doctors. It aids them with activities ranging from emergency room care, ICUs, surgeries up to 16 hours with non-stop usage, and clinical training.

Current Technologies in the M400

Among the recent advances that make the M400 effective are voice recognition, a high-resolution camera that can be used for both stills and video, and image stabilization. Still pictures with up to 12.8 megapixels can be captured by the camera. (In comparison, the original Google Glass offered only one megapixel.) Image stabilization makes it feasible for experts or students to follow what’s going on remotely through video on a 4k display. (The original Google Glass supported only still pictures, not video.) Travers said a remote viewer can see the sutures during open heart surgery, when the surgeon is wearing an M400.

The M400 also benefits from the greater bandwidth available on today’s networks. Internet speeds at most sites achieve 720 megabits per second, and some rise above a gigabit. The M400’s Bluetooth transmitter allows it to be integrated with everyday devices that connect to cellular networks.

The M400 runs on an 8-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1, the same chip used in Google’s Glass Enterprise Edition 2. The M400 operating system is Android, and it is HIPAA-compliant. Other features of interest to customers may include a variety of mounts and ruggedization, which allows the M400 to withstand falls and submersion in water. The device can be cleaned with alcohol.

Travers said that a number of industries are finding use for the M400. Its price puts it a bit above the consumer market, but it offers a lot to professionals, who can practice its use until they find it natural and become much more efficient in their work. Smart glasses look like a technology equally poised to improve the human experience in health care, and to benefit from the incorporation of analytics and other technology.

This article is part of the #HealthIT100in100

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About the author

Andy Oram

Andy Oram

Andy Oram writes and edits documents about many aspects of computing, ranging in size from blog postings to full-length books. Topics cover a wide range of computer technologies: data science and machine learning, programming languages, Web performance, Internet of Things, databases, free and open source software, and more. My editorial output at O'Reilly Media included the first books ever published commercially in the United States on Linux, the 2001 title Peer-to-Peer (frequently cited in connection with those technologies), and the 2007 title Beautiful Code. He is a regular correspondent on health IT and health policy for HealthcareScene.com. He also contributes to other publications about policy issues related to the Internet and about trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business.

   

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