If you're a Grey's Anatomy aficionado, you may have been gob-smacked by last week's episode, "We Are Never, Ever, Getting Back Together," on ABC. I'm not referring—Warning: spoiler alert!—to the fact that it marks the return of Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), who left Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) standing at the altar in the season three finale, but to the hologram image of a beating heart that reunites them in the surgical suite in the current season. The heart hologram, which allowed Burke and Yang to see the heart that was being worked on at all angles in real time floating in space, might seem like screenplay overreach, but it's not. The technology actually exists and will be available as early as next year.
A startup in Israel, RealView Imaging Ltd., developed what it calls the the world's first 3D holographic display and interface system, which it is marketing initially for medical imaging applications. It describes the technology on its website in these terms: "The company's proprietary technology projects hyper-realistic, dynamic 3D holographic images "floating in the air" without the need for any type of eyewear or a conventional 2D screen. The projected 3D volumes appear in free space, allowing the user to literally touch and interact precisely within the image . . . ."
RealView Imaging completed a clinical study of the system, in collaboration with Royal Philips, in October 2013. The pilot study involved eight patients at the Schneider Children's Medical Center (Petach Tikva, Israel) who were undergoing minimally invasive heart surgery. Surgeons were able to view, virtually touch, and rotate detailed dynamic 3D holographic images of the heart floating in space without wearing any special glasses. "The holographic projections enabled me to intuitively understand and interrogate the 3D spatial anatomy of the patient's heart, as well as to navigate and appreciate the device-tissue interaction during the procedure," said Dr. Einat Birk, pediatric cardiologist and Director of the Institute of Pediatric Cardiology at Schneider Children's Medical Center.
Speaking with CBS News, RealView president and co-founder Shaul Gelman said the system operates by using data analysis and densed projection of light. Measurements and dimensions produced by x-rays, MRI, or ultrasound images create the hologram, and technology that uses light-scattering to project the image onto a fixed point in space does the rest, he explained.
RealView was established in 2008, and has secured intellectual property in the field of holographic displays and interface systems. It plans to launch its medical imaging system in 2015.
As for Grey's Anatomy, the consensus among people who care about such things seems to be that this plot point, and a seemingly impossible-to-refuse offer made by Burke to Yang, tees up Oh's exit from the series. The holographic heart scene from last week's show is embedded below.