The system will have emergency-services, military and battlefield applications.
UB's Virtual Human Model also could enhance the training of new physicians in one of the most formidable medical procedures they have to learn -- intubation.
"Intubation is a very touchy procedure," Billittier said. "It involves putting a plastic tube into a patient's airway or windpipe when that patient may not be breathing or may be in shock."
He pointed out that medical students and emergency-medical technicians now learn the mechanics of the procedure first on a mannequin -- which is not very lifelike -- and then switch to real patients, with widely varying degrees of success, under the close supervision of an experienced physician.
A computerized VR simulator for intubation based on information being gathered for the Virtual Human Model database would be a real boon, said Billittier, who is working with Kesavadas' group to develop one. Such a system could provide visual feedback of real airways while the student is maneuvering the tube into the simulated patient on the screen; the simulation would provide the student with the proper tactile or pressure feedback, felt through the haptic interface.
Kesavadas estimates the research team could develop such a system within a couple of years.