New Surgical Special Effects Are All Smoke And Bloody Mirrors

Realistic rendering of smoke and blood isn't just a game developer problem. Engineers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have come up with a novel way to give surgical students the virtual blood and gore they need.

Today's young surgeons perform virtual surgeries using some pretty advanced technology. While they dig into a dummy torso filled with fake organs with various cutting devices, transducers located in the fake internals measure the force the learning surgeons exert. Those measurements are sent to a PC, which delivers a virtual representation of how real organs would react.

The rendering is quite realistic, only it lacks some elements a surgeon performing a real operation would doubtlessly encounter: Blood and smoke.

The processing power necessary to render the simulated organs and crunch the incoming data already pushes many modern PCs to their limit, leaving no power left to produce pooling human juice or the smoke rising from cauterized flesh.

"Intra-abdominal tissue has a very high density of blood vessels. When a cauterizing device cuts it, copious amounts of smoke are generated and bleeding may occur. These effects are hard to incorporate in a simulation," says (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute engineer Suvranu) De.

De and his team came up with a method for delivering realistic amounts of gore without resorting to buckets of colored corn syrup and a smoke machine. They're programming these surgical simulations with pre-rendered special effects.

The team recorded the smoke coming from the tip of a cauterizing tool during an actual keyhole surgery, and programmed an algorithm into the simulation so that when a surgical student uses that particular tool, smoke is generated on screen. The density of the smoke changes with the amount of time the tool is used and the pressure exerted, giving the student an accurate representation of what would happen in real life, minus the smell of burning flesh.

It's the same with blood. The simulation measures the density of blood vessels in the area being poked with a scalpel and uses the pressure exerted to calculate the amount of blood that would come from the cut. That tells the program how much blood to overlay on the screen.

It's a simple, elegant solution to a pressing, burning, bleeding problem, and one that the team might one day cross-over into the video game realm. I'm looking forward to a new Dr. Mario with more realistic cauterizing effects.

Virtual blood and smoke give gore to student surgeons [New Scientist]
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