A healing hand

Giving the world better access to medical experts through the tactile internet

Access to remote healthcare specialists

From specialist oncology to simple ailment diagnosis, a large percentage of the world’s population cannot reach or afford the healthcare professionals that they need to treat them.

It's the nature of disruptors, however, to look at a challenge differently to everyone else. After all, the world's problems are only difficult to solve if you play by the world's rules.  

That's how lead innovators and researchers at the Ericsson 5G Tactile Internet Lab in King's College London, supported by Ericsson technology and infrastructure, have addressed the urgent need for better global healthcare. 

Using cutting-edge 5G network infrastructure in combination with the world's most advanced surgical robotics, the team at King's College has created the ability to allow the remote transfer of haptic, tactile, audio and visual technologies. This enables a surgeon or doctor to perform a diagnosis or even surgery on a patient anywhere in the world.

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The touch felt around the world

The principle of the solution is simple. A doctor uses specialized haptic feedback gloves and virtual reality (VR) equipment to operate on a patient via a robotic counterpart, potentially thousands of miles away.

The gloves provide touch feedback from sensors on the robot arms, and the VR equipment places the surgeon in the same sensory environment as the patient. The combination of these two technologies removes both the obstacle of distance and the burden of travel cost, giving patients access to specialists, no matter where they are located.

The project has been trialed in the lab at King's College in London, as well as being demonstrated at a number of different events, including Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

More connected healthcare

The idea of remote healthcare and robotic surgery are not completely new in their own right – the medical use case project at King’s College has been developed in collaboration with Dr. Prokar Dasgupta, a world authority in the use of robotics for medical application.

However, the introduction of 5G with ultra-low latency of a few milliseconds and multi gigabit bandwidth provides a new dimension and enables reliable communication that has the ability to perform mission critical procedures.

For example, to operate safely a surgeon needs to be able to react to physical and visual stimuli in under 10 milliseconds. When operating remotely, these stimuli will need to be delivered over a network, but the time required to compress and decompress video content vastly exceeds the safe reaction time.

With 5G supporting the solution, these problems are neatly sidestepped. 5G connectivity enables much greater bandwidth usage, while intelligent network slicing separates and prioritizes mission-critical functions, such as machine communication, which is required for the surgery.

Most importantly, the low-latency attributes of 5G means the haptic feedback is felt in near real-time through the surgeon’s gloves.

With the inclusion of niche start up companies and support from other major UK partners this has created an eco-system that challenges the status quo, not only making a difference to technology but to society as well.

Focus on: tactile internet

The ability to reach out across space and physically interact with a person or object on the other side of the planet isn't just a new technological concept – it's something the human race has simply never been able to do before.

Although the use of tactile internet in healthcare has the potential to completely revolutionize how patients and doctors interact, the horizontal application of the technology is much wider, even within healthcare.

For example, senior doctors and teachers will be able to use tactile connections with students in faraway places to demonstrate surgical techniques, or to coach diagnosis methods. Someone with impaired vision could even use the equipment to add physical context to an audio/visual experience, bringing another dimension of sensory stimulation into the picture.

Outside of healthcare, the potential uses are equally far-reaching. In theatre and the arts, it gives performers and creators new ways to connect with audiences, exploring touch as a mass medium. In gaming, it creates a greater level of immersive experience than was ever possible before.

And in education, it gives schoolchildren the opportunity to visit anywhere in the world. Imagine a class of children in a remote or under-developed region being able to visit any museum of their choosing, just by putting on a pair of gloves and VR headset.

Tactile internet is just one of the disruptive technologies Ericsson is supporting with our cutting-edge 5G and cloud network research, giving innovators the tools to engineer a better future for the whole of human society.

In this video, Peter Marshall, Principal 5G Lead with King's College London at Ericsson, discusses the benefits of this breakthrough technology.

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