A computer vision approach to identifying the manufacturer and model of anterior cervical spinal hardware

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Recent advances in computer vision have revolutionized many aspects of society but have yet to find significant penetrance in neurosurgery. One proposed use for this technology is to aid in the identification of implanted spinal hardware. In revision operations, knowing the manufacturer and model of previously implanted fusion systems upfront can facilitate a faster and safer procedure, but this information is frequently unavailable or incomplete. The authors present one approach for the automated, high-accuracy classification of anterior cervical hardware fusion systems using computer vision.


Patient records were searched for those who underwent anterior-posterior (AP) cervical radiography following anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) at the authors’ institution over a 10-year period (2008–2018). These images were then cropped and windowed to include just the cervical plating system. Images were then labeled with the appropriate manufacturer and system according to the operative record. A computer vision classifier was then constructed using the bag-of-visual-words technique and KAZE feature detection. Accuracy and validity were tested using an 80%/20% training/testing pseudorandom split over 100 iterations.


A total of 321 total images were isolated containing 9 different ACDF systems from 5 different companies. The correct system was identified as the top choice in 91.5% ± 3.8% of the cases and one of the top 2 or 3 choices in 97.1% ± 2.0% and 98.4 ± 13% of the cases, respectively. Performance persisted despite the inclusion of variable sizes of hardware (i.e., 1-level, 2-level, and 3-level plates). Stratification by the size of hardware did not improve performance.


A computer vision algorithm was trained to classify at least 9 different types of anterior cervical fusion systems using relatively sparse data sets and was demonstrated to perform with high accuracy. This represents one of many potential clinical applications of machine learning and computer vision in neurosurgical practice.

ABBREVIATIONS ACDF = anterior cervical discectomy and fusion; AP = anterior-posterior; BoVWs = bag-of-visual-words.

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence Kevin T. Huang: Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA. khuang3@partners.org.INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online September 6, 2019; DOI: 10.3171/2019.6.SPINE19463.Disclosures Dr. Chi reports being a consultant for K2M. He has received clinical or research support from Spineology for a study unrelated to the present one.


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