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Surgeons Use Apple VR Headset During Spinal Operation

A surgery team in the UK successfully utilized the recently-released Apple Vision Pro to assist spinal surgery — a fascinating use case for the augmented reality (AR) headsets that goes far beyond movie-watching, productivity-hacking, or distracted driving.

As Business Insider reports, the expensive "spatial computing" device was used to execute two microspinal procedures at London's Cromwell Hospital. To be clear, it wasn't the surgeons themselves who were wearing bunky AR headsets. The device was instead donned by an assisting surgical scrub nurse, who according to a press release used headset-integrated software called eXeX to access things like "surgical setup and the procedural guides from within the sterile field of the operating theatre," in addition to any needed data or surgical visualizations.

So, in short: coupled with the eXeX software, the headset offered the folks in the operating room hands-free access to documents and other information related to the procedure and its workflow. Pretty cool!

"It's a real privilege to be the first team in the UK and Europe to use this software within surgery," Syed Aftab, a surgeon involved in the procedures, said in a statement, "and I'm looking forward to seeing how this technology advances and the impact it can have across hospitals in the UK."

This certainly wouldn't be the first time virtual reality tools were applied in medical settings. For years, doctors have used VR-enabled modeling as a way to study and train for medical procedures, simulating surgeries and other treatments; in some cases VR has even been used to give patients a glimpse into their bodies and treatment options. And that said, virtual reality has also unsurprisingly found broad applications in the realm of medical education.

Apple even touted the burgeoning healthcare applications for its new headset in a recent press release, with the company's VP of worldwide developer relations Susan Prescott saying she was "thrilled to see the incredible apps that developers across the healthcare community are bringing to Apple Vision Pro."

"The imagination and drive of our developers, combined with the technical capabilities of visionOS, are igniting new possibilities for physicians, frontline workers, and even students," she added, "and we can't wait to see what's to come."

To that end, in the world of medical applications, the Vision Pro's capacity for users to see "through" it may well offer the headset a competitive edge against rivals. Unlike other bulky headsets, the device is outfitted with cameras that let wearers — though often still very awkwardly — see the environment outside of their goggles. Which is something you probably want for someone assisting in an active operating room.

For its part, the hospital where the successful microspinal surgeries in question were performed seems pleased with the results. Our hearts do go out to the nurse, though — the success of the surgery aside, strapping a 1.5-pound face computer to your skull for hours on end likely wasn't all too comfortable.

More on VR and sugery: Surgeons Use VR Headsets to Separate Conjoined Twins