savings by using virtual mock-ups and prototypes rather than real physical ones is enormous.
Medicine and health care, like design, manufacturing, and marketing, are considered to be a major SE application domain. Although much of the work is still at the experimental stage, applications of both VE technology and teleoperator technology are being pursued very actively.
In addition to developing improved communication networks for providing the right medical information to the right place at the right time, much of the current research is directed toward improved methods for diagnosis; planning of treatment; provision of information to the patient; provision of treatment; and training of medical personnel. VE systems are being developed and studied experimentally to extend conventional consultations and telediagnosis performed over the telephone to include interactive visual displays of both participants and medical information. Such systems are also being studied for use in planning surgical procedures and in helping to increase patients' awareness and understanding of these procedures and of the possible outcomes. Augmented-reality systems are being studied to present visual displays in which information previously obtained from special imaging techniques is overlaid on the normal direct view of the patient; integrated VE and teleoperator systems are being developed for use in telediagnosis and telesurgery and for the training of surgeons. In general, the potential benefits of telemedicine that are being considered include not only the ability to obtain medical information and perform medical actions at a distance, but also the ability, as in any other application of teleoperation, to effectively transform the sensorimotor system of the operator to better match the task at hand. The rapidly increasing use of laparoscopic surgical procedures illustrates the importance of these other benefits.
Aside from the efforts required to realize technology that is adequate for the various medical applications, substantial research is being initiated to realize adequate physically based models of the human body (e.g., for VE training of surgeons). However, current success in creating virtual human skeletons, organs, and physiological subsystems constitutes only a tiny fraction of what needs to be achieved over the long term.
Additional health-related research and development activities in the SE area are taking place in connection with physical rehabilitation. Individuals with sensory or motor disabilities constitute a uniquely challenging domain for application of SE systems with specially designed human-machine interfaces (e.g., gestural tracking and recognition devices for individuals who have lost both the ability to articulate speech and the