Since the acquisition of high-resolution three-dimensional patient images has become widespread, medical volumetric datasets (CT or MR) larger than 100MB and encompassing more than 250 slices are common. It is important to make this patient-specific data quickly available and usable to many specialists at different geo-graphical sites. Web-based systems have been developed to provide volume or surface rendering of medical data over networks with low fidelity, but these cannot adequately handle stereoscopic visualization or huge datasets. State-of-the-art virtual reality techniques and high speed networks have made it possible to create an environment for clinicians geographically distributed to immersively share these massive datasets in real-time. An object-oriented method for instantaneously importing medical volumetric data into Tele-Immersive environments has been developed at the Virtual Reality in Medicine Laboratory (VRMedLab) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
This networked-VR setup is based on LIMBO, an application framework or template that provides the basic capabilities of Tele-Immersion. We have developed a modular general purpose Tele-Immersion program that automatically combines 3D medical data with the methods for handling the data. For this purpose a DICOM loader for IRIS Performer has been developed. The loader was designed for SGI machines as a shared object, which is executed at LIMBO's runtime. The loader loads not only the selected DICOM dataset, but also methods for rendering, handling, and interacting with the data, bringing networked, real-time, stereoscopic interaction with radiological data to reality.
Collaborative, interactive methods currently implemented in the loader include cutting planes and windowing. The Tele-Immersive environment has been tested on the UIC campus over an ATM network. We tested the environment with 3 nodes; one ImmersaDesk at the VRMedLab, one CAVE at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) on east campus, and a CT scan machine in UIC Hospital. CT data was pulled directly from the scan machine to the Tele-Immersion server in our Laboratory, and then the data was synchronously distributed by our Onyx2 Rack server to all the VR setups.
Instead of permitting medical volume visualization at one VR device, by combining teleconferencing, tele-presence, and virtual reality, the Tele-Immersive environment will enable geographically distributed clinicians to intuitively interact with the same medical volumetric models, point, gesture, converse, and see each other. This environment will bring together clinicians at different geographic locations to participate in Tele-Immersive consultation and collaboration.