Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lights! Camera! Organs!

The last speaker I heard at the Stanford SimWorkshop in Long Beach was Anders Larsson of Surgical Science in Norway. (After a morning watching body parts bleed and congeal and throb and sizzle, I wasn't in the mood for staying for the box lunch.) Larsson designs virtual reality interfaces that connect to mock surgical instruments, so would-be surgeons can engage with actual physical prostheses that mimic the function of real scalpels and clamps, while watching the action on a video screen. After all, video screens play a critical role in many surgeries now. According to Larsson, modeling tissue in Maya and painting it in Photoshop isn't as complicated as representing the nuanced physics of surgery. To make matters more difficult for Larsson, medical source footage often provides an incomplete record to guide product developers, because blood, smoke, and the darkness of body cavities can mar clear shots.

The demo I saw was a gall bladder and liver dissection. He showed the early stages of the design process in which a yellow spongy rectangular box sits on a larger liver-colored one. Larsson explained that surgical procedures like the dissection need to be broken into specific steps (or represented in algorithms, as a computer scientist might say). To refine these discrete steps, designers make detailed "storyboards" that show each part of the operation being done, just like Hollywood directors or production designers.

The storyboard can be another form of "making things public" with import beyond screening rooms and operating rooms. My cousin, the artist Josefa Vaughan of Artseed, has worked with the storyboard format for years. This work includes recent show called Postcards to People in Power. Vaughan has found that regular citizens can use the storyboard to narrate and to editorialize. See the images below to get a sense of work from the show.



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