PhD candidate forging new frontiers in virtual reality

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry PhD candidate Adam Rankin, BSc’07, MSc’09, is currently working with mixed reality, merging real and virtual worlds.

Special to Western NewsSchulich School of Medicine & Dentistry PhD candidate Adam Rankin, BSc’07, MSc’09, is currently working with mixed reality, merging real and virtual worlds.

In a quiet corner of Robarts Research Institute, hidden behind a maze of cubicles and black curtains, researchers are pushing the boundaries of reality.  It’s in this curious and creative space that PhD candidate Adam Rankin, BSc’07, MSc’09, is taking medical imaging beyond the computer screen.

Under the co-supervision of Medical Biophysics professor Terry Peters and Queen’s University researcher Gabor Fichtinger, the Robarts trainee is currently working with mixed reality, merging real and virtual worlds. His latest project involves Microsoft’s HoloLens, a head-mounted, untethered device that overlays 3D-digital content on top of the real world.

The device looks like a futuristic pair of lab goggles, complete with built-in cameras, wireless headphones and self-tracking abilities. Users control the HoloLens using hand gestures and head movements, and can physically move around holograms to view different angles.

“For many people, this is like something out of Star Trek,” Rankin said.

With this technology, he is hoping to enhance minimally invasive surgical procedures and address the disconnect that occurs between surgeons and technology in the operating room.

“This research is about reducing the cognitive load, making life easier for the surgeon,” Rankin said. “We don’t want the surgeon to be thinking about the technology; we want them focused on the patient and the critical factors related to the surgery. With the HoloLens, there is no more computer monitor to look at. The surgeon will be able to observe the augmented surgical scene without any extra effort.”

Because of the unique constraints associated with the device, Rankin has been working for several months to integrate the product with other image-guided platforms, devices and software, such as 3D ultrasound.

Born and raised in London, Rankin completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Computer Science at Western. He started his career in the video game industry in Montreal, working for two years as a game developer. From there, Rankin moved to Kingston and eventually landed a position with Fichtinger, who studies image-guided surgical interventions.

The switch from gaming to biomedical engineering was significant for the 32-year-old. “This type of work is very satisfying,” he explained. “I like that it actually has an impact on people’s health.”

When his wife got into medical school at the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, the couple moved back to London. At Fichtinger’s encouragement, the budding researcher continued his work at Robarts with Peters and decided to pursue a doctoral degree.

“Robarts really is world class,” Rankin said. “We have the latest technology and equipment, as well as the access to clinicians who are interested in participating in this research.”