October 18, 2017

In a world filled with video games, smartphones, and tablets, one research group is finding a way to use technology to solve real-world problems.

Nicholas Bieno ’18 is teaming up with Professor of Engineering Brian Johns to create a virtual reality surgical simulator for a procedure that repairs hip fractures.

“The goal is that we have a virtual reality that simulates what it actually is like in the operating room,” Bieno said. “We have an augmented-type reality where we are using real-world things that act like they are supposed to and we have those two working together in unison so that when you do something in the real world, it shows up properly in the virtual world.”

Bieno is repurposing video game software to create the virtual operating room and high-tech engineering machinery such as a CNC lathe to craft the pieces for the simulator.

“We are some of the first people to implement this virtual reality to a training surgical simulator,” said Professor Brian Johns.

This research team knows that during a residency program, doctors-in-training often have to practice on real people, which can lead to mistakes. This project has a goal of increasing the safety of training and reducing the cost to taxpayers because patients often use Medicare or Medicaid to pay for the procedure.

“This costs billions of dollars a year in medical expenses,” Bieno said.

They’re using their liberal arts background to figure out the ins and outs of this simulator project.   

“It is an engineering project, but it incorporates so many different fields,” Professor Johns said. “It incorporates manufacturing, it incorporates computer science, it incorporates mathematics, it incorporates computer graphics. There are so many fields—as well as medical research.”

With so many skills needed for this project, Nicholas says he’ll be able to use this knowledge as he plans for his future after Cornell.

“I really want to work on prosthetics and orthopedics,”  Bieno said. “A lot of what I’m interested in has to do with the dynamic hip screw that we are studying. It’s helpful to research and build this simulation because I’d like to work on the actual device in the future.”

Watch their video story: