I attended Virtual Medicine conference at Cedars Sinai in LA and was struck by the reality of virtual reality in healthcare. It seems that 2019 is a landmark year, when VR in healthcare was less about ‘is this useful’ and more about specific science and technology needs.
Hearing Dr. Rafael Grossmann speak and give overview of available look-through mixed reality headsets really drove home the point that this tech is here now so start building today. The chances to radically advance both training and practice of medicine are immense. His emphasis on Haptic technologies also keep pushing us forward to consider multisensory experiences.
Dr. Grossmann is part of #LeapNation and I am honored to get to chat with him on occasion as our Magic Leap developer/enthusiast community explores the potential of Spatial Computing.
Skip Rizzo of USC presented their work with digital agents, aka Virtual Humans, in therapy. Very compelling to see their research that humans will more likely be honest with a purely software agent than with a character with a human behind the face. A purely digital character can assuage their fears of judgement and opens up therapy pipeline to billions of people who would not otherwise have access, or courage to seek access.
Dr Shafi Ahmed presented an inspiring talk about using immersive tech to bridge the massive 5 billion person surgery access gap through training and direct intervention. He even is involved now in constructing a hospital. Dr. Ahmed is thinking massive scale, exponential tech to get education and collaborative surgery into the normal working reality.
This strikes a chord in me, as ever since a trip to Barcelona to see the Sagrada Familia I have become fascinated by a vision of hospitals becoming more architectural, more like churches: custom buildings designed to facilitate healing through their very structure, moving beyond florescent lights and particle board and toward deeply meaningful architecture.
Was compelling to hear from Dr David Rhew, head of Healthcare and Fitness at Samsung. Connecting the dots between visuals, tracking and even physical interventions via exoskeleton is a fascinating nexus that can yield impressive results. I continue to regret that exoskeleton technology was not available for my now deceased grandmother whom retained mental acuity as she was every year more and more confined to wheelchairs and seated postures. Directed walking interventions are a rich frontier, coupled with cognitive XR therapies we could see people living not just longer lives but better lives for longer times.
Heard a great talk from Dr. Brandon Birckhead on the scientific and economic realities of testing all this innovation. Innovation in the basic science side will be needed as well as the more ‘flashy’ applications arena. I am hoping that more companies will step up and help fund this research as it will create markets for their systems and hardware.
There were so many great talks and panels, I only got to see a handful, the full speakers list is available on the website, and hopefully they will make the videos available! Here are a collection of pictures from panels:
Closing out the conference, Dr. Brennan Spiegel showed a very useful spectrum to help situate what kind of experiences we can create and how to utilize them in a holistic manner. Along with a call to respect the real suffering that this new technology can address, and not over-promise. Immersive tech for medicine needs grounded science and respectful approaches, keep the hype in check even as the excitement grows!
Got to experience many different vendors displaying. Of note was just how many pain relief or relaxation VR experience companies there were, mostly using the Oculus Go system and 360º videos for content. This is a hot field and it will be fascinating to see what brands stick around by differentiating themselves through features, support, standardization, etc. Hospitals want to purchase VR for pain relief, patient comfort, and also training and simulation. Speaking with different vendors, particularly simulation vendors, was very enlightening. VR is a massive leap forward for training, as it will enable practitioners to get beyond just having tidbits and facts and toward practical readiness. VR training is a revolution already here, while VR therapeutics is still emerging.
Saw some new hardware too.
Experienced a surgical simulation inside of HP’s latest Windows Mixed Reality headset Reverb (specs here) and can confirm that the visuals are amazing. The quality of the display is finally good enough to let me totally forget that I’m looking at screens and focus instead on the content. This is the ‘retina display’ moment for VR hardware.
What really caught my eye was a 180º projector called Broomx capable of covering an entire room with projected images. This is an exciting development that could drastically reduce the cost of creating immersive CAVE systems.
CAVE systems have an immense benefit in being literal environments, allowing participants to use normal human social cues and gestures ‘for free’ without needing to build in avatars or any such things, and without the synchronization challenges and cost of getting each participant to wear individual spatial computing glasses like hololens or magic leap. Yet they are often constructed of many panels, either back projected or LCD screens. Having just a few Broomx projectors be able to cover a full 360º area drastically reduces cost and complexity, perhaps even brings portability to this powerful tool once reserved for labs, see below for example:
In closing, immersive technologies are here to stay for medicine, in both training and therapy.
A nexus of science, art and human practices is needed to move this possibility space forward into useful elements, networks and standards. There is still research needed and much work to do.
I aim to push into new frontiers with holohealing.com focusing on bringing ancient traditions and deep symbolism into look-through spatial computing headsets like Magic Leap and Hololens.
Exciting revolutionary change is happening right now, 2019 is immersive technology's arrival moment; from the labs and experiments to the real world.
Read more about related research conference: