Parents know the frustration and sense of helplessness when an infant in pain lacks the language skills to explain where it hurts. University of Michigan researchers are developing technology that uses neuroimaging, augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) to help clinical professionals locate the source of pain when patients cannot identify it themselves. The researchers work with adult volunteers, not children. 

The current very early stage platform is called CLARAi (clinical augmented reality and artificial intelligence). The platform includes a cap with sensors that detect changes in blood flow and oxygenation as a way to measure brain activity and pain response. CLARAi uses the data transmitted from the cap to map pain locations. The Michigan scientists wear Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality glasses to watch the subject’s brain activity represented by red and blue dots to represent pain location and intensity.

Initial tests involved 21 subjects, as reported in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The volunteer patients sat in a dental chair while wearing the cap. The researchers stimulated pain by applying cold temperature to the subject’s teeth. In the reported study, the CLARAi algorithms had a 70% success rate in identifying pain. 

Artificial intelligence learns by analyzing large quantities of data. As the University of Michigan researchers provide more pain signatures, the algorithm’s pain assessment accuracy should improve. Stating that the technology is “years away from widespread use in a clinical setting,”  University of Michigan School of Dentistry associate professor and director of the Headache and Orofacial Pain Effort Lab Alex DaSilva said dental patients are appropriate for early testing with the technology. Future uses of AR/AI pain monitoring and mapping include patients who are anesthetized or otherwise challenged and unable to tell where it hurts.