Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality: these terms combined are often referred to as extended reality (XR). This technology can be perceived as intimidating to incorporate into business, but it has already been making strides across different industries.
Our team at The Digital Innovation and Consumer Experience (DICE) Group at Thomas Jefferson University & Jefferson Health is continuously surveying the landscape of augmented and virtual reality. We spend time exploring the use cases that may be beneficial for the healthcare landscape. Over the past two years, we’ve noticed trends and perceptions that span beyond the healthcare vertical.
Education and Training Using Virtual Reality
Schools, medical centers and enterprises are leveraging VR for the power of immersive learning. When compared to 2D devices or in-classroom learning, VR affords convenient access to difficult scenarios that are resource intensive, such as those requiring many people, locations and materials for learners to practice.
For example, research has been done into using VR to train nurses for disaster decontamination training and training residents to effectively communicate the benefits of getting a flu shot. Investigators have also looked into using VR to improve learner retention, such as in a fascinating study on mind palaces. As these examples suggest, when the intrinsic properties of VR are utilized properly, VR training has the potential to increase learners’ retention of information and their motivation to learn.
Examples of enterprises investing in VR for training: Walmart, Volkswagen.
Platforms we’ve been impressed by in the medical realm: SimX, PeriopSim.
When used for simulation, this technology is most useful when a moderator is present with the learner, enabling the moderator to see what the learner or student is viewing in the headset and often debriefing with them after the experience. More advanced platforms provide multi-user features, allowing both the moderator and the learner to be immersed in the same virtual environment.
VR content exists to help train social skills in profound ways from public speaking, teaching children on the autism spectrum to be comfortable around police officers [link], training employees to have more empathetic discussions around sexual harassment [link] and more.
The popularity of VR is on the rise as the price of headsets has fallen dramatically and ease-of-use has improved. No longer do consumers need to code or have high-end gaming computers to benefit from VR. Instead, they can simply put on a headset and be transported into profound immersive experiences.
The Limitless Possibilities of VR
● Remote collaboration and conferences
● Architectural planning
● Patient anxiety reduction and entertainment
● Connecting with prospective donors
Practical Uses of Augmented & Mixed Reality
Augmented reality content can be experienced on tablets and smartphones as well as head-mounted displays. From what we’ve observed, head-mounted displays are more time-consuming to setup and deploy at scale than tablets and phones. Unlike tablets or phones, head-mounted displays provide more freedom by allowing the user’s hands to interact with their surroundings, including through the use of interactive hand gestures. The separation between the terms augmented and mixed reality is still somewhat debatable, however the clearest definition of AR is overlaying content on what is already there - marking something up and adding menus and information. Examples of this are: PTC’s manufacturing services solutions and CAE Vimedix’s medical training wherein mock patient scans can be seen over the training mannequin.
Mixed reality is when the content blends into its surroundings. Examples abound from Snapchat and FaceApp, to retail stores allowing consumers to try on makeup or glasses prior to purchase, to even placing furniture in your home - mixed reality allows for the “try-before-you-buy” model without any of the hassle of returning physical items, enabling true customer convenience.
Considerations Before Scaling
Before investing in AR, mixed or virtual reality platforms, consider structuring small pilot studies to assess feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy.
It is also vitally important to configure content with analytics to better understand user engagement. For example, some headsets allow for eye tracking which can help show what features users are most interested in and which ones they’ve missed. We’ve seen content configured with session time tracking and user profiles. Integration of wearables to track biometrics is also becoming increasingly popular. There are however privacy, security and user consent elements that must be planned for when exploring the power of biometric feedback.
Accessibility: When evaluating AR, VR and MR consider the user. Will someone who is visually imparied benefit from a particular training simulation that requires reading of fine text? Will someone with arthritis or mobility issues be able to complete certain hand gestures or reach all of the buttons on a controller? Typically creators plan for reducing motion sickness - typically referred to as “cybersickness” in VR - but few consider the accessibility of their platforms and content. As the primary users of XR tech move from gamers to the general populace, this will be an incredibly important part of creating lasting tools. These mediums are incredible visual and auditory tools and there is great opportunity to make this technology more user friendly and inclusive.
When considering investing in XR, it is important to remember that it takes time to socialize this medium with stakeholders. It is easy to get excited about vision videos posted on social media, however, a critical eye is needed to not get overwhelmed by the hype. We schedule time with our project stakeholders to ensure that they have first-hand exposure to popular XR content and understand the benefits that they will receive before deciding to move forward with XR.
As we like to say, it can take one minute to come up with a good idea but, it can take one year to make it a reality. XR tech is exciting and new, but it requires careful discernment. Before reaching for XR, ask, “Would another medium be just as effective?” It’s important to pursue this innovative tech when it’s truly warranted, particularly when creating new platforms. Producers of training simulations face the challenge of proving the effectiveness of their product before attempting wide-scale adoption as industries often require evidence-based research before making substantial investments. Likewise, investors will want to see that a product is proven to be effective before committing resources into a project. And that is a good thing! XR technology has the potential to change nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives so it is vital that we take the time now to get it right.
Disclaimer: The information shared above is not an endorsement of any given platform, technology or company. Readers should investigate further for themselves to determine validity and effectiveness of a given platform.