Virtual drill wins award

A new device for training dental students has ), received the excellence in education innovation award at the Medical Futures ceremony. It is called called HapTEL (haptics in technology-enhanced learning). The project is a collaboration between dentists from Guy`s Hospital, technical developers from Reading University and Birmingham City University, and e-learning professionals from King`s College London.

The virtual-reality jaw opens wide for a student to develop his skills. The drill is based on haptics, a tactile feedback technology through which the user can sense touch and force in a virtual-reality environment. The hub at the centre of the work station is based on that used in the gaming industry. A foot pedal, recycled from an old dental chair, allows the student to operate the drill.

The work station lets the student feel the difference between drilling hard enamel and softer decayed tooth and helps them learn how much pressure is needed. Prof Margaret Cox, who led the project, says: "When the students first learn, they lean very heavily on the drill and go straight through the tooth to the gum - which would be disastrous in a real patient. They also take ages. This allows the student to learn both skill and speed."

The student wears glasses that produce a 3D jaw on the computer screen. Panels on the edge of the glasses, and a head tracking camera, allow the jaw image to move relative to the student’s head position, allowing them the real-world experience of examining the teeth from different angles.

Sadhvik Vijay, a second year student, says: "When you first come into dentistry everything is very alien to you, the way you position your hand, the tiny movements that you need to perform procedures - it is difficult. This allows you to repeat a task over and over again, it gets ingrained into your muscle memory, and improves your manual dexterity."


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