From cockpit to cataract ops: Israeli flight headsets adapted, approved for surgery

Augmented reality system now being rolled out in Europe after receiving CE mark; doctor says it ‘feels like being inside the eye during surgery’

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A doctor uses the Beyeonics One headset to assist with eye surgery. (Courtesy of Beyeonics)
A doctor uses the Beyeonics One headset to assist with eye surgery. (Courtesy of Beyeonics)

Israeli innovators have turned tech made for fighter pilots into an augmented reality headset to help eye surgeons.

The Beyeonics One is now being rolled out in Europe, after receiving the CE mark of approval in the fall.

In America, where it has been used for 2,000 surgeries in research phases, it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The technology was recently the subject of peer-reviewed research, which found that it performed well when deployed for the first time for endothelial keratoplasty, a complex procedure to remove abnormal matter from the cornea.

Beyeonics One is an adaptation of the head-mounted displays that pilots have used for decades, and which have become ever more sophisticated. Ron Schneider used to work on such displays at the Israeli defense company Elbit and set up Beyeonics, which he now leads as CEO, to spin out the tech.

“The standard tool today is the old-fashioned surgical microscope,” Schneider told The Times of Israel. “But advanced visualization headsets exist for flight, and the idea here is to harness this power for surgery.”

File: A doctor performs eye surgery. (nakornkhai via iStock by Getty Images)

When surgeons put on the Beyeonics One headset, they see very highly magnified images of the eye, as well as important patient information from pre-surgery tests and checks. For the sake of hygiene, they don’t need to touch a keypad, but rather control their view using head gestures.

A senior doctor who has used the device, Prof. Paulo Eduardo Stanga, vitreoretinal surgeon and director at The Retina Clinic in London, said that operating with it “felt like being inside the eye itself during surgery.”

Schneider said the objective was to give surgeons a clearer view and more data to enable them to work more accurately. He gave the example of cataract surgery, in which a clouded lens is removed and a clear lens inserted.

The Beyeonics One platform, with the headset suspended from the long arm. (Courtesy of Beyeonics)

“This needs to be done in a very precise manner, and today it’s mostly done by marking the eye with ink and then aligning the new lens,” Schneider said. “This technology provides guidance with extremely high accuracy.”

Beyeonics One wasn’t the only smart headset available, but Schneider said it was notable for its very sharp picture and the high level of surgical data that was provided alongside the images that the surgeon sees.

The recent research on the device, published by scholars from Tel Aviv Medical Center and Tel Aviv University, said that procedures they used the device for were successful and there were no postoperative complications.

“Surgeons reported excellent visualization and minimal [time] lag, almost negligible, with the benefits of improved ergonomics and the use of head gestures to control zoom, focus, brightness, and panning,” it said.

Schneider said that the headset would evolve via a range of software applications with different functions, for example, applications that warn doctors of different risks during surgery based on images that it is processing.

“It’s apt to compare this tech to an iPhone, in the sense that it’s a very strong hardware platform, for which it’s possible to develop many applications,” he said. “And now we’re developing many many apps, software clinical applications on top of that, which is exciting.”

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