Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR) Tech Digest - December 2016

VR in Physical Therapy 

Max Ortiz Catalan at Chalmes University of Technology took 14 arm amputees, for whom all previous medical treatments had been near useless to treat their chronic phantom-limb pain; and gave them AR treatment developed by him and his team. The participants received the treatment for 12 sessions, after which the subjects reported pain has been reduced by approximately 50%.
The amputee used muscle signals from the amputated limb to control an onscreen AR arm. The subjects saw themselves, in real-time, onscreen with an AR arm that they could control as though it were their own biological arm. 
It is believed the effectiveness can be explained by the reactivation of areas of the brain implicated in arm movement that had not been used since the amputation. 


Rotterdam based augmented reality (AR) company Twnkls, worked with the Delft University of Technology to develop an AR system which allows for remote crime scene investigation. They are currently carrying out trials with the Dutch Police, Netherlands Forensic Institute and the Dutch Fire Brigade. 
The system works by an expert working remotely annotating a crime scene with important tips and pointers to aid the responding person, i.e. a police constable, to effectively investigate the scene. By means of a smartphone or head-mounted display (HMD) like Google Glass, video footage is sent to the expert who can then draw the constable’s attention to a particular area or item of interest. This system allows for many time-short experts to attend a scene and provide their possibly pivotal knowledge, without physically attending – meaning that in theory crimes have a better chance of being solved. According to Twnkls the police should be able to purchase the complete package in six months’ time. 

Happening Haptics

Haptics is an area of technology concerned with touch. Adding realistic touch to the VR experience would enhance its immersiveness. Here we will look at three recent stories from the field of haptics. 
Axon VR, creator of the HaptX platform, has secured USD5.8 million in seed funding. The HaptX platform’s controller gives users thermal and tactile feedback. In its promotional video AxonVR show users facing dragons and feeling the heat as they breathe fire. This is achieved through the use of HaptX’s patent-pending microfluidic technology which moves hot or cold water from reservoirs in the device through channels also inside the device. 
Another area of haptics is motion feedback. Tactical Haptics has developed the Reactive Grip motion controller which aims to convey force and motion information through tactile feedback – think of recoil from firing a gun in a video game. This effect is achieved through sliding plates in the grip. The plates moving in unison along the handle cause the user to feel translational (up and down) motions and forces, while the plates moving in opposing motions create a feeling akin to recoil or jerking.
Meanwhile, Ultrahaptics’s mid-air touchless haptic technology was demoed at the VRX Conference & Expo in San Francisco. It uses an HTC VIVE headset to allow users to feel and interact with virtual blocks without the need for any specialist equipment like gloves or controllers. This is possible using ultrasound speakers which can provide tactile sensations to the user’s fingers. The technology can re-create the feeling of objects, switches, dials etc., and can even provide different sensations to individual fingers.

VR/AR in Mental Health Treatment 

Many scientific papers have supported the claim that VR can be a useful supplementary therapy for many kinds of mental illness. Here are two stories about VR in mental health.
In the latest launch of social media campaign #BeFearless, Samsung is providing its Gear VR headset to use as a therapy tool for use on anxiety and phobias. Through a process known as Exposure Therapy, people with a phobia, e.g. arachnophobia (a fear of spiders), will, during the therapy process be introduced to increasingly more fear inducing stimuli. To begin with this could be simply imagining the phobic object/situation, in this case a spider, through to the conclusion of therapy where they might be able to hold a spider. 
Australian insurance company, Medibank, is using VR technology in a related area, treating non-clinical mental distress such as loneliness, boredom and mild transient depression. Stays in hospital can last weeks, during which time many patients feel boredom and loneliness which retards recovery speed. Medibank recognizing the need to keep inpatients happy and entertained teamed up with Google and medical virtual reality company, Liminal, to offer patients a program called ‘Joy’. 
‘Joy’ is an immersive VR immersive storytelling experience which Liminal believes alleviates loneliness and frees patients from their physicality for a while. Liminal claims its content is based on factors that, as shown by research, will reduce loneliness such as pet therapy, bibliotherapy and nature scenes.

Doctors’ paperwork reduced thanks to AR

Dignity Health has introduced Augmedix technology  system – an augmented reality (AR) service involving doctors wearing AR glasses and scribes writing up the details of the consultation for the doctor – throughout its Pacific Central Coast Health Centres. 
Dignity Health’s participating doctors use Google Glass to collect and send data to an offsite scribe who can see and hear in real-time what the doctor sees and hears. The scribe can then update patient records appropriately which Augmedix claims saves the doctors up to ten hours per week of paperwork while speeding up the process of getting results from labs, getting medications and referrals. This doesn’t contravene patient-doctor confidentiality, at least not in the US, where it follows all the rules of the United States Health Insurance Portability and Accountability  (HIPAA), a federal law to protect patients’ personal information and medical records.

Sony and Nokia work together to produce 3D 360 Immersive VR 

Sony pictures has signed a deal with Nokia, to use its OZO 360-degree VR camera, other hardware and software including the OZO platform to help Sony capture, edit and distribute VR content. The OZO platform is able to provide viewers with live 3D 360-degree VR broadcasts, meaning that the consumer could virtually attend live sports matches or other events. 

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