Getting a needle into a patient's vein can sometimes be a complicated process, especially if the veins aren't visible. Vein-spotting spectacles that see through a patient's skin could help avoid the damage caused by repeated needle pricks, and that's exactly what researchers at the University Teknologi Petronas (UTP), Malaysia, are developing. Their Smart Veins Locator is a wearable head-mounted display that allows nurses to see the patient's veins in real-time, by overlaying a map of their veins on top of their skin.
The prototype integrates a camera and light source into a head mounted display to capture an image of the patient's skin illuminated by near infrared light. A unit processes the image in real time, detects the veins and projects the vein information onto a see-through display. The veins seen by the user's eye through the glasses are accurately mapped and overlaid onto the real world image of the patient's skin.
Though similar to Evena's Eye Glasses, the smart vein locator uses multiple wavelengths and can select the best type of illuminant wavelength for the patient's skin color. Being able to use different light wavelengths allows these smart glasses to see through any skin tone.
"We have tested our prototype on four different skin tones: fair, light brown, dark brown and dark," the team's Aamir Shahzad tells Gizmag. "With optimized illumination we are able to get better contrast for each skin type."
Currently the prototype can spot veins up to a depth of 5 mm (0.2 in), but its range could be extended to 25 mm (1 in) with further development, according to lead researcher Dr Naufal M Saad. Aside from making a nurse's job easier, the technology, when mature, could also help detect tumors in skin tissues at an early stage.
"We can detect skin cancer and other kind of issues," reports Saad. "Instead of having to go through the big machines to identify problems, we can spot dehydration, or check fat levels for those struggling with obesity."
Disaster management is another area where the researchers hope the glasses will make a difference. "When there's a huge accident, we just send people to the hospital, and medical staff can be overwhelmed with cases," Saad tells us. "If you had an early detection system to detect whether there's internal bleeding or not, or if it was severe enough to warrant being sent to the ICU, it could help save lives."
Plans are also in the works to develop the prototype further and to connect it to a centralized computer acting as a server. "This would allow medical staff all over the hospital to walk about with the smart glasses and have the data fed back to a central point for analysis or review," explains Saad. "Just like how you have different channels on your TV, but can still see all the information in one place.”
The researchers say that the centralized processing system could also alert the nurses to emergency conditions like internal bleeding and infections in real time, and display the information on the glasses.
It is anticipated that the Smart Vein Locator will be released in the market in a year's time. The smart glasses could find application in the 1Malaysia program, which has small clinics set up all over the country to provide basic medical services for people with minor illnesses and injuries like colds, cuts, fever and more.
"The problem is that these small clinics may not have experts," Saad tells us. "You may have medical officers who need some technological assistance. We can equip these clinics with this kind of device to help."
Though the prototype currently costs around US$5000 to $6000, the researchers expect to bring the costs down with mass production to $2000 or less. They recently exhibited the Smart Vein Locator, developed under the Center for Intelligent Signal and Imaging Research (CISIR) of UTP, at the 25th International Innovation and Technology Exhibition (ITEX) at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Malaysia.