20th November - Valencia.
The impact of COVID-19 on AR/VR applications in Healthcare
According to ABI Research the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in Healthcare 4.0 as healthcare systems and providers have been forced to accelerate their digital transformation journeys and adopt novel and innovative solutions that empower healthcare professionals and support remote patients. Both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) solutions are starting to revolutionize healthcare applications and services, and at the same time, contribute to the fight against COVID-19. The AR healthcare market is expected to generate approximately US$10 billion in revenues with the VR Healthcare market reaching US$1.2 billion in 2024.
The COVID-19 outbreak has certainly thrown the spotlight on AR/VR, as the healthcare industry is fast adopting these interactive, hands-free technologies to bolster patient care. Augmented and virtual reality’s use cases have increased significantly following the pandemic, as the lockdown has boosted the need for technologies with remote capabilities. AR and VR in the healthcare market can emerge even stronger in the coming period as remote-care and at-home medical care become more prevalent.
Increased use of wearables
The use of wearable technologies in healthcare, are defined as noninvasive and autonomous devices that capture, analyze, and aggregate physiological data to improve personal health and well-being is also showing major growth. Recent advances are providing value add for healthcare with a focus on diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and prevention. These advantages are felt through the entire healthcare value chain with benefits including personalization, early diagnosis, remote patient monitoring (RPM), adherence to medication, information libraries, and better decision making, while reducing healthcare costs. The integration of wearable tech with augmented reality (AR), Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing solutions, as well as the falling prices of sensors, open-source application programming interfaces (APIs), frameworks, and libraries, is enabling faster and more cost-effective solutions within the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.
Virtual reality (VR) could offer scientists a safe alternative for conducting potentially life-saving studies and trials during the pandemic .VR has already been used for research and training simulation and could revolutionize the way we gather, test and apply scientific knowledge.
In a recent article written by Bernard Marr for Forbes, he states, “The potential uses for XR technologies in healthcare are obvious, over 2020 we can expect to see many of these use cases transition from trials and pilots and gradually into general use. Virtual reality has already been adopted in therapy, where it is used to treat patients with phobias and anxiety disorders. Combined with biosensors that monitor physiological reactions like heart rate and perspiration, therapists can get a better understanding of how patients react to stressful situations in a safe, virtual environment. VR is also used to help people with autism develop social and communication skills, as well as to diagnose patients with visual or cognitive impairments, by tracking their eye movement.”
The move to Enterprise solutions
VR/AR technologies have traditionally been associated with the gaming and entertainment industry for consumer use, where immersive experiences are so important. However the technologies have never really moved out of these sectors because of expense, lack of tried and tested applications and cumbersome equipment that goes with it. Yet according to a recent survey by VR Intelligence there is strong evidence that now XR which covers VR, AR, MR, and related technologies including head-up displays (HUDs) and some systems based on haptic technologies, is establishing itself quickly and strongly in supporting the enterprise market.
In their survey, they have noticed a shifting of focus towards providing enterprise XR solutions, with 73% of the survey companies saying they are working on VR for enterprise functions and just under 65% doing the same for AR and MR, which is a mix of AR and VR. However, in the coming years, XR would not be limited to visual effects alone, as immersive technological enhancements in general, such as AR headphones improving the audio experience by filtering out specific sounds from the real world. In order to maximise the immersiveness of the user in VR/AR environments, a plausible spatial audio reproduction synchronised with visual information is essential.
However it should not be surprising that this shift is happening as XR has the potential to boost productivity and safety making it an attractive proposition for industry. VR can be used to simulate working in dangerous environments or with expensive, easily damaged tools and equipment, without any of the risks. AR, on the other hand, can be used to relay essential information directly to the user about whatever happens to be in front of them – reducing the time spent by engineers, technicians, or maintenance staff referring to manuals and looking up information online while on the job.
Traditionally one of the biggest limiting factors with current XR technology is the need for encumbering headsets and display units. This is more of a problem with VR, where the powerful processing hardware needed to generate the graphics is usually contained within the headset. However, hardware devices have started to trend towards being "untethered. Miniaturisation, stronger processing power, wireless capability and the onset of 5G will enable greater mobility with smaller headsets without being weighed down by heavy display units and batteries.
Placing bets on Augmented Reality
When it comes to the potential of virtual reality technology versus augmented reality, it’s increasingly obvious that AR is where there’s broader popular appeal. While the reach of VR is limited to gamers who wear headsets, major tech companies see VR as a gateway to more wide-reaching possibilities of AR technology. The idea is that AR can reach widespread adoption in our everyday lives. Better hardware will undoubtedly unlock a lot of transformative potential for virtual reality — but even more so with augmented reality.
Companies such as Vection Technology are already in the space and have recently signed up a trial to integrate Vection’s AR Healthcare solutions within the Moscati hospital, Italy, focusing on:
Although in the US, Los Angeles start-up, AppliedVR has received a breakthrough device designation from the FDA for using VR to manage chronic pain at home. So both technologies are seeing increased potential in a Medical setting.
The investment by companies like Microsoft and Intel have also been heavy in AR and VR and have yet to commercialize their technology. Intel, for instance, has been working on a set of technologies that capture live activity, and then replay it in such a manner that the viewer can review the action from literally any angle. At CES 2020, company executives said they might have the processing power necessary to cost-effectively commercialize the technology in two or three more microprocessor generations.
VR/AR is ready for real business
But it seems the manufacturers do not need to hype to promote VR/AR technology anymore, Kevin Krewell, Principle analyst at Tirius Research was quick to point out at CES 2020“ AR/VR/XR was less hype more substance, this year. “
Whilst there has been a more low key approach to the technology and application and a gradual maturity, there has been an explosion of patents in this area of technology. That is why many manufacturers are seeking the right highly skilled engineering talent. Some agencies have stated that the demand of engineers in AR/VR technologies has increased 1400% this year, already!
Yet there is a severe lack of suitable engineering skill capability which can exploit these opportunities. As it is a relatively ‘new’ area the experience level has been in short supply. Engineers of the right quality are highly sort after and it requires specialists in the area to find them. The higher demand is also a direct reflection also of how the technology is coming of age and due to COVID-19, the requirements are needed quickly.
CIS are experts in finding the right skills for contracting in VR/AR markets. Having cut its teeth in providing high quality engineers for new audio and visual innovations, in areas such as embedded and Audio Signal Processing, they have built a strong track record with ground-breaking technologies stemming from High quality 3D Sound. Entering the Virtual Reality world at its origin, they now supply embedded engineering resource for real-world applications in Construction, Healthcare, Simulation, Military, Training and Education markets.