January 28, 2016 · 11 min read

Virtual Reality Comes To Life — The Future Of VR In Medicine And Science

It’s 2016 and the world of virtual reality (VR) is — finally — virtually a reality. After much anticipation, various fits and starts, and numerous technological hurdles, the Oculus Rift is poised to enter the marketplace in a very real way. Presently owned by social media giant, Facebook, Oculus Rift is taking preorders from customers around the globe. The social media giant has announced March 28, 2016 as the much-anticipated release date for its groundbreaking VR platform technology.

For those who may not know, the system involves wearing a helmet of sorts, while standing or sitting in front of a device that resembles a futuristic desk lamp. The headset creates the illusion of immersion in a virtual 3D world, using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, with high refresh rates and high-definition resolution. The system integrates 3D audio in the headset, and can be controlled with two mirror-image, wireless, handheld motion controllers.

Taken together, these components allow the user to navigate the virtual space, and interact with it at will. The illusion of moving through a virtual space is made possible through the use of a positional tracking system, dubbed “constellation.” It relies on blinking infrared lamps that stud the headset, and a device that vaguely resembles an old-fashioned radio microphone, perched on a nearby stand. This device tracks the position of the headset’s invisible lamps with sub-millimeter accuracy and near-zero latency.

Worlds to Explore

Of course, all of this impressive immersive technology is useless without virtual worlds to explore. That depends on purpose-created software and programming. Upon its general release in early 2016, Rift will ship with at least two games, while others are in development — but it’s clearly in the eashutterstock_114369202rly days. The true potential of this technology remains to be determined — by designers, the marketplace and the imaginations of visionaries like Ghost Productions, for example.

VR is already in limited use in various arenas, for applications as diverse as architectural design, military training and even automobile sales. Architects can explore virtual renderings of their proposed buildings, for instance, moving from room to room, step by step, to better visualize and explore the practical implications of the structures they’ve imagined. The Norwegian army is reportedly using a form of immersive VR to train its soldiers to maneuver high-tech tanks. Auto maker Audi is providing potential buyers the thrill of riding on a virtual test track at breakneck speeds, no crash helmets needed. Exhilarating, to be sure.

Imagine Virtual Reality Applications in Science and Medicine

Needless to say, the possibilities for medicine and science are equally thrilling. Imagine the opportunity to perform virtual surgery without ever making a single real-world incision. As a training and development tool alone, the possibilities are staggering. The ability to perform virtual reality surgery could become the must-have training tool of the future at leading medical schools and institutions. The need for donor corpses and animal carcasses could be slashed, as the focus of medical school training shifts from explorations of actual bodies to virtual ones.

Other uses of VR in the medical arena could include enhanced patient education and training; significantly expanded training and marketing efforts; and even improved research and development of everything from medical devices to biologic drugs targeting specific components of the immune system.

From the Drawing Board to Cardboard

Of course, Rift is not the only game in town. By creating the simple, somewhat old school VR platform known as Cardboard, Google bypassed some of the monumental hurdles involved in bringing true VR to fruition. This alternative to expensive and currently untested technology is aptly named. It consists of little more than a simple piece of cardboard, some 45-millimeter focal length lenses, magnets or capacitive tape, and some hook-and-loop fasteners.

When folded properly and combined with a user’s smartphone and an appropriate app, the simple device simulates VR. Technically, the device delivers stereoscopic “3D” imagery or “augmented reality,” with a wide-viewing angle. While not the same as VR, the simulation approximates it. It offers the considerable advantage of being inexpensive and readily available.

Anyone who ever played with a ViewMaster toy as a child will recognize the effect that underlies this approach. The eyes are presented with two slightly different angles of view, which are combined by the brain into a single, seemingly 3D image. The difference is that oshutterstock_169416581ld “stereoscope” devices presented static images. In the age of ubiquitous cellphone videos, virtual 3D movies are now possible. Enhanced medical animations are among the many possibilities with this system. According to new organization, CNN, Cardboard has already played a role in saving the life of a baby.

The Oculus Rift, especially, was developed with the intention of taking gaming to the next level. Though clearly this technology promises to enhance and facilitate many other, perhaps more practical, uses. Medical animation is an invaluable tool for a wide range of purposes, including marketing, teaching, training and more.

In the near future, medical animators will be able to push the limits of what’s possible even further, by immersing the viewer in a virtual 3D world, where the user will be able to zoom out to the macroscopic level, or plunge into microscopic or even sub-microscopic levels, to better explore the intricacies of the human body and its myriad components; from systems, to organs to organelles — and even to the level of individual molecules.

Learn how Ghost Productions can work with you to produce exciting medical VR content. Contact us today for a free project estimate and proposal to get you started.