7D Surgical is the first company to employ machine vision technology for surgical navigation of the spine and brain. This technology helps surgeons see through the anatomy, and orient their surgical tools in space, like drivers using a car’s GPS.

Machine vision is using specialized cameras, hardware and software to recognize and analyze images. Think of it as giving a computer a set up finely tuned eyes. It is closely related to machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence. In the past, it was most commonly used in industrial factories for inspection and quality control.1 Machine vision is now used for self-driving cars and iPhone facial recognition. It’s also increasingly being used in healthcare applications.

Machine vision can augment the skills of physicians and improve overall patient care. Companies like 7D Surgical are using machine vision technology to change medicine. Here, we discuss how machine vision is currently being applied in medicine, and how it will continue to evolve the field in the future.

Related article: Spine Navigation


Machine vision-based technologies are being developed by teams of engineers and doctors around the world to improve healthcare.2 For example, machine vision is beginning to change the way cancer is diagnosed. A group of researchers recently showed that machine vision cameras and algorithms can improve dermatologists’ accuracy when diagnosing skin cancer.3 Another group showed that machine vision can diagnose breast cancer as accurately or better than expert pathologists.4 Machine vision is also making its way into the operating room.

Machine vision can enhance surgeons’ skills by showing three-dimensional reconstructions of the patient’s anatomy and augmented reality.5 This helps the surgeons orient themselves and their tools during procedures.5 It has been used by surgeons to provide image guidance during laparoscopic procedures, bronchoscopy, and rhinoscopy.5 7D Surgical is the first company to bring machine vision to spinal and cranial surgery.

The 7D Surgical System uses machine vision cameras and algorithms to automatically match patients’ preoperative spine or brain scans to images taken in the operating room, a process called registration.6 Once the patient is registered, the surgeon can see the exact location of their surgical tools relative to the anatomy. Using the computer, the surgeon can see exactly where the target anatomy is, like using GPS to navigate while driving. Image-guided surgery allows surgeons to avoid damaging critical anatomy like the spinal cord and major blood vessels.7 Image guidance from machine vision results in safer surgery for patients.7

The benefits of machine vision are very real to a veteran in New York who required spine surgery after fracturing his cervical vertebra in a fall.8 His surgeon used the 7D Surgical System to guide him through a delicate surgical procedure and the patient was able to leave the hospital within 24 hours.8 Navigation accuracy is crucial in this kind of case, where a few millimetres can be the difference between a good outcome and major surgical complications. Machine vision can help bring neurosurgery to the next level in terms of patient safety.


The global machine vision market is expected to reach $14.4 billion USD by 2022.9 The technology will revolutionize healthcare and medical imaging.

7D Surgical plans to remain at the forefront of the use of machine vision for spine and brain surgery and other specialties in the future.  7D Surgical is currently developing technology to help surgeons correct spinal deformities like scoliosis by using the technology to detect changes in the spine’s shape in the operating room and providing real-time feedback to the surgeon.10 The 7D Surgical System is also being used to determine whether machine vision can prevent surgeons from accidentally operating on the wrong level of the spine, which can cause significant physical, emotional, and economic harm.11 7D Surgical will continue to use machine vision technology to benefit patients, doctors, and healthcare professionals, and look for new areas of medicine where the technology can make a significant clinical impact.



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  2. Gao J, Yang Y, Lin P, Park DS. Computer vision in healthcare applications. J Healthc Eng. 2018;2018:5157020. doi:10.1155/2018/5157020
  3. Marchetti MA, Liopyris K, Dusza SW, et al. Computer Algorithms Show Potential for Improving Dermatologists’ Accuracy to Diagnose Cutaneous Melanoma; Results of ISIC 2017. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2019.07.016
  4. Mercan E, Mehta S, Bartlett J, Shapiro LG, Weaver DL, Elmore JG. Assessment of Machine Learning of Breast Pathology Structures for Automated Differentiation of Breast Cancer and High-Risk Proliferative Lesions. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(8):e198777. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.8777
  5. Mirota DJ, Ishii M, Hager GD. Vision-Based Navigation in Image-Guided Interventions. Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2011;13(1):297-319. doi:10.1146/annurev-bioeng-071910-124757
  6. Jakubovic R, Guha D, Gupta S, et al. High Speed, High-Density Intraoperative 3D Optical Topographical Imaging with Efficient Registration to MRI and CT for Craniospinal Surgical Navigation. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):1-12. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-32424-z
  7. Härtl R, Lam KS, Wang J, Korge A, Kandziora F, Audigé L. Worldwide survey on the use of navigation in spine surgery. World Neurosurg. 2013;79(1):162-172. doi:10.1016/j.wneu.2012.03.011
  8. Hyman A. GPS for doctors: Unity Hospital neurosurgeons turn to the new, life-saving system. News10NBC. https://www.whec.com/news/gps-for-doctors-unity-hospital-neurosurgeons-turn-to-life-saving-system/5445710/. Published August 2, 2019.
  9. Machine Vision Market by Component (Hardware (Camera, Frame Grabber, Optics, Processor) and Software (Deep Learning and Application Specific)), Product (PC Systems and Smart Camera Systems), Application, Vertical, and Geography – Global Forecast to 2022. Markets and Markets. https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/machine-vision-systems-market-963.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzbmetYSI5AIVgZyzCh1wXQGxEAAYASAAEgIZzPD_BwE. Published 2017. Accessed August 16, 2019.
  10. Young R. Ten Best New Spine Technologies for 2017. Orthopedics This Week. https://ryortho.com/2017/11/ten-best-new-spine-technologies-for-2017/. Published 2017. Accessed July 5, 2019.
  11. Zagzoog N, Yang VX. Novel Extended Vertebral Registration for Wrong Level Spinal Surgery (NEVER Wrong) [abstract]. In: Congress of Neurological Surgeons 2018 Annual Meeting. Houston, TX; 2018. https://www.cns.org/annual-meeting-2018/awards.