It’s a fact of life that we’re always going to be exposed to some form of radiation no matter where we go. However, the more we can avoid it, the better our health will be. Well, researchers have now found a way to utilize a device found in many gamers’ living rooms to do just that, while also improving the X-rays doctors take of our insides.

When it was first introduced, the Kinect for Microsoft’s Xbox was lauded as the future of video games. It allows players to control some games without using a standard controller; instead, they can select from menus on the screen by simply using hand gestures. It never really took off in the gaming world, however. So researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis repurposed it for medical use, specifically with X-rays.

The amount of radiation we’re exposed to in a single chest X-ray is about the same as what we absorb in 10 days. But most people who get an X-ray don’t get a single shot of the radiation. This issue becomes magnified among children, who also face a greater risk of adverse effects from radiation. To combat this, the researchers developed proprietary software that works with Microsoft’s Kinect to reduce the number of images taken during a normal X-ray test, thus reducing the amount of radiation the patient is exposed to.

"The goal is to produce high-quality X-ray images at a low radiation dose without repeating images," said Dr. Steven Don, associate professor of radiology at the university's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, in a press release. "It sounds surprising to say that the Xbox gaming system could help us to improve medical imaging, but our study suggests that this is possible."

During a presentation at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting in Chicago, researchers showed that the Kinect’s motion-tracking could identify the thickness of body parts, the position of the patient, and the X-ray field-of-view before the technician takes an X-ray. The technician monitors all of this in real time, and the software alerts them when something might compromise the quality of the picture, which in turn gives them the opportunity to reposition the patient or X-ray machine before conducting the actual X-ray.

Though the software can benefit people of all ages, the researchers hope it’ll help children the most not only because of their sensitivity to radiation, but also because their sizes vary as they grow. Since body size determines how much radiation a patient is exposed to, the ability to take high-quality X-rays is crucial to limiting radiation exposure as well as diagnosing and determining patient treatment plans.

The team has already applied for a patent for its technology, and plans to use the Kinect 2.0 to continue its research. It’s also awaiting feedback from radiologists on ways to improve it. "Patients, technologists, and radiologists want the best quality X-rays at the lowest dose possible without repeating images," Don said. "This technology is a tool to help achieve that goal."

Source: Don S, et al. Radiological Society of North America. 2015.