Sunday, October 11, 2015

Healthcare - it's Virtually Improving!

We've now covered the application of virtual reality technologies in journalism, education and gaming, but did you know that VR has also been used in the healthcare sector for more than 20 years? 

As previously mentioned global enthusiasm for virtual games crashed back in the 90's as a result of poor graphics development. To the relief of gamers worldwide, the movement has been revived more recently, particularly with Facebook's $2 billion acquisition of Oculus. Despite such gains, however, it's quite clear that VR hasn't been popularized on the mass market - that is, we're not seeing it in our homes or shopping malls just yet. 

On the contrary, however, new developments and research in VR healthcare have been going strong for many years. Here are the four main trends in which it has been conducted:  
  • Educational applications teaching anatomy, allowing students and doctors to watch, simulate and actually perform surgeries on virtual (and sometimes real) patients.
  • Virtual exposure therapies used by psychologists to treat phobias, cognitive impairments, phantom pains and addictions, and apps that isolate and distract patients under anesthetic during a surgery.
  • Preventative applications, including workout programs, relaxation games and even simulators that demonstrate the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles.
  • Inclusive applications that seek to improve the mental welfare of disabled and homebound people.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the most promising VR projects within each of these areas:

Bravemind by VBI is an application simulating battle conditions in Iraq and Afganistan in order to help soldiers recover from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Physiotherapists use the app to force patients to gradually face scenes similar to those that caused stress in the past, but in a safe and controlled environment. Veterans are then able to analyze and reevaluate these situations, lowering their anxiety levels. VBI also has applications for treating mental blocks and phobias associated with public speaking, heights and elevators, flying, bridges, storms as well as alcohol and tobacco addictions. 

ICAROS is a fitness device prototype which allows users to train their bodies while simulating a flying experience. The machine's unique feature is that it enables users to experience the full spectrum of emotions by moving the entire body, eliminating the fear of falling that is associate with similar, more traditional games controlled by eyes and/or a remote controller. 

DEEP is an application used to stimulate relaxation through meditative breathing. Yes, the game is controlled by breathing in and out! DEEP comes with a custom controller that is wrapped over the player’s chest and measures diaphragm expansions in order to sense and improve deep breathing. Check out a great video of the application here

Eye Play the Piano is another breathtaking project realized by Fove. The technology allows disabled children to play the piano through an eye-controlled interface. The user chooses the notes by looking at them and blinking, and the information is transferred to the piano which actually plays the notes.  

As you can see, VR offers numerous possibilities to improve multiple health conditions. Studies show that VR can even help a paralyzed person to walk without physical walking aid devices! The principal hurdle currently facing the industry is insufficient funding. Several companies are undergoing series of crowdfunding, while others try to attract more traditional investors. Let's hope that these initiatives receive the financial seeding they deserve to help them truly take off! 

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