Holographic Telemedicine Is Coming, and Your Smartphone Has a Role to Play

Holographic telemedicine will make remote medicine more feasible and accurate.

It’s a bit like staring into one of Disney’s fabled magic mirrors. That, or an enchanted fishbowl.

It’s a glass dome capable of housing a 3D holographic image from a live streaming video conference call. And it is a glimpse at a medical marvel.

It was unveiled by creators Voxon Photonics earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 event and is essentially a device capable of sending and receiving live 3D images over a mobile network. It’s worth noting that it has to be a 5G mobile network, but we’ll all be getting acquainted with that technology and its possibilities in the near future.

What this technology means for our health is that we could someday project our three-dimensional bodies into the presence of a doctor miles away from where we physically stand with just the power of our smartphones. Used this way, holographic telemedicine could lend a diagnostic accuracy to virtual medicine that hasn’t previously existed. That, in turn, would change all the when’s, where’s, and how’s of routine healthcare.

The Heaviness of Holograms

Holograms require a lot of hardware. Over recent years, we’ve seen holographic technology used to allow CEOs, aspiring heads of state, and departed music stars strut stages across the world. The technology behind those spectacles, however, involves a lot of cameras, lights, glass, and open space. In short, it isn’t the way to allow a discrete medical exam within a humble doctor’s office.

What Voxon Photonics has done is shrink that complex design down to something the size and shape of an overturned fishbowl. If you’re accustomed to video conferencing through the Skype app on your phone, then this volumetric display–in which light is projected and scattered across a volume of space rather than a flat surface–looks more than a little unwieldy, and the glass case does ruin the illusion of a spontaneous, free-formed image. You can see it in action here:

For practical purposes, though, this kind of display can add a level of detail unavailable in the current crop of telemedicine services that present only flat images. In 3D, a medical profession can get a sense of the depth of a wound, the contours of an inflammation, or the extent of a fracture, especially if you substitute a live caller for an x-ray.

Best of all, the information can be carried over a mobile network, even though it involves sending two simultaneous 100 megabit streams through the skies.

5G Networks Will Be a Revolution

VC Daily has previously speculated about what our online future will look like once super-high-speed internet connections become common (smooth, high-definition group video calls, for one thing). Once 5G networks arrive, you’ll be granted speeds and volumes up to 1000 times faster than current 4G standards. You’ll be able to download entire HD-quality movies to your phone in seconds, run high-end 4K video calls without a hitch, and use your phone as a hub to run all the internet-needy devices in your home.

In the case of holographic telemedicine, you’ll be able to live stream images captured by high-end 3D digital scanners. The Voxon example above uses Intel’s commercially available RealSense cameras–the same ones you may already use on your desktop to create green screens and use facial recognition software–to capture the 3D imagery before relaying it to the volumetric displays.

In their demonstration at the Mobile World Congress (with the help of mobile heavyweights Ericsson and Verizon), Voxon was able to present both sides of the 3D conversation across a 5G network. However, in a medical application, only the doctor needs to see things in 3D and only the patient needs to send images from the RealSense.

With that in mind, holographic telemedicine becomes a lot simpler, and a lot closer to reality.

Holographic Telemedicine

Under those conditions, only the doctor’s office needs to be fitted out with the magic fishbowl device. That’s a lot more accessible than every patient installing one in their home or office–or carrying one around. In fact, we’ve already seen the arrival of publicly available holographic video calling suites via a small startup called Buffalo Pacific. That company plans to make 3D calls available to businesses on a rental basis, so there’s certainly the possibility of installing a shared holographic facility of some kind in a suite of doctors’ offices, especially given the efficiency and size of the Voxon model.

On the other end of the exchange is the patient’s smartphone. These have exploded in photographic sophistication over recent years. Multi-camera arrays are now common and the once impressive bokeh effect, whereby simultaneous photos from different lenses are laid together create depth, is now a social media staple. It won’t be long before the infrared sensors used in Intel’s RealSense make their way to mobile.

That closes the holographic telemedicine loop. This highly sophisticated technology, which requires the projection of a million points of light per frame, has already been sent over the mobile networks we’ll soon enjoy in our daily lives. With these seemingly inevitable advances we’ll be able to undergo holographic medical appointments without leaving our homes; have a consultation by stepping out of the office for a few minutes; or send a fully realized hologram of an injured leg within minutes of making a fateful slip.

It’ll be instant, remote 3D medicine.

Subscribe to VC Daily