We met with Leilani DeLeon from Qualcomm’s VR team to discuss an interesting topic: how the Snapdragon Virtual Reality (VR) platform could improve healthcare. Better Healthcare is a topic that could affect any of us, and with literally “life and death” in the balance, VR could be much more impactful (although less entertaining) than VR gaming.

The improvement would, of course, come from VR Training. After “knowledge,” the most important thing in the medical world is “experience.” VR may not provide the level of experience that real situations do but it is the best next thing and present no potential danger when the trainee makes a mistake. Failure is an integral part of learning, and VR is an entirely safe and realistic-enough way to train.

On multiple occasions, we spent time with the Snapdragon 820 VR headset, but this latest experience is powered by Snapdragon 835, the same platform found inside the best Android phones today. Snapdragon VR is compelling and provides a complete freedom of motion since it is not tethered at all. It has sensors to follow the headset’s position and orientation in the room. The user can freely walk around without having to deal with the large video and power cable seen on PC.

It is a very different experience from something like the HTC Vive headset, which requires a PC to render the image. Qualcomm’s headset has all the VR system in one device.

Mobile platforms such as Snapdragon VR are powerful enough to render graphics that provide a meaningful context. It’s true that PC graphics would be more realistic. However, a mobile setup is infinitely easier to move around from place to place by the instructors. In the end, it’s about getting the job done well, but conveniently. For that, mobile VR has the most potential.

As 5G Networks make their way into people’s lives, it becomes increasingly frictionless to access better experiences using huge data sets. It is also possible to stream the action to different locations, possibly to train even more people in “spectator mode.” It is also possible to replay VR experiences (real or not) to look at it from a different viewpoint.

To demonstrate the concept, Qualcomm has worked with ForwardXP and Leap Motion to build a “brain stroke” training program called “Think F.A.S.T. It starts with treating a patient who is not feeling well.

The VR app trains to spot multiple stroke symptoms such as face drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. I went through the diagnostic process but ultimately failed – not because the tutorial was weak, but because I rushed to judgement. My virtual patient didn’t make it (sorry!), but I’ve learned something valuable.

The app could be an excellent training tool, and I can imagine how this might look 4 to 5 years from now. When I started programming computer graphics, arcade games were running on flat-shaded polygons, and after seeing how far we’ve come since, it is not difficult to imagine where mobile VR is headed.

There is another aspect to VR health training which is less glamorous: (medical) devices training. Just like flight simulators, VR training puts the students in the real context and makes everything much more realist and easier to remember in my opinion. It is not unlike flight simulators: when it comes to piloting a 747, how much do you think you can learn from a book, versus a flight-sim?

VR has been used for some time to help people deal with the fear of heights, phobia of certain insects and other visually/emotionally stressful situations. None of these programs are widely implemented and available at your local medical facility. Qualcomm’s mobile healthcare VR push could help change this.

Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing markets, and VR can make a significant impact on the outcomes, through better training. I love VR Gaming, and I think that gaming will continue to lead the technology edge, but I am a firm believer that VR can make an enormous impact on education and other forms of training, which in turns will contribute to society in more meaningful ways than “entertainment.”

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