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Not just entertainment, VR finds use in medicine, education

The medium has now moved far beyond its applications in films and entertainment.

Not just entertainment, VR finds use in medicine, education
Virtual Reality glasses or headsets being used by patients
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For years, the stream of virtual reality (VR) has been considered as a part of entertainment, used predominantly by kids or in the world of gaming. Several VR headsets are found on the market, ranging from the heady highs of the Oculus Rift (developed by a division of Facebook) to Google’s simple VR Cardboard that is the most basic of devices. In the last couple of years though, the applications of VR (as well as AR – augmented reality) have exploded across fields and industries, with many start-ups across India, including many in Chennai, realising the untapped potential of the market.

Today, creating a virtual world is not just useful for gaming addicts looking to escape the realities of everyday life, but for doctors providing therapy to cancer patients and teachers creating an immersive environment to educate students on the practicalities of a subject. Several young minds in our city have tied up with brands all over India to spread awareness on the phenomenon, and how it can make lives easier.

Most recently, even movie audiences were ecstatic when the likes of AR Rahman and SS Rajamouli announced they would be making virtual reality films. Rahman’s Le Musk, in fact, premiered to rave reviews in Las Vegas, as fans await eagerly for its release soon. Since the film is based on perfumery, Rahman has gone a step further and tied up with technology that will disperse scent during the viewing. Rajamouli’s pet VR project Sword of Baahubali, meanwhile is set against the backdrop of the climax of Baahubali: The Conclusion.

It’s not just the big names, several others are making their mark in the field as well. Coimbatore native Madhusudhan Balasubramanian’s virtual reality film VR Sky was one among the few VR projects selected from across the world to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival a year ago.

But the medium has now moved far beyond its applications in films and entertainment. Chennai-based The Social Mind started in 2016, helps business across the city grow using VR. For instance, customers walk into a restaurant and are unsure which dish to order from the menu. What if a 3D projection of the dishes, the portions and ingredients were displayed before it is ordered? That’s what these young tech minds promise – across various fields.

CEO Sabarish Chandrasekar says that their designers have come up with VARch+, a module for architects and interior designers to experience their space, aesthetics and output in an immersive environment. “There are a few more modules like VExp+ with which virtual showrooms can be created and VEd+ to produce educational videos.” They also collaborated with schools in the city to spread awareness on studying with interactive visuals.

Meanwhile, doctor Pramod Chinder, an orthopaedic oncosurgeon, who works with cancer patients across the country, uses VR to reduce the pain while treating kids during therapy, and says that its potential in the field of medicine is multifold. “Several doctors in the country have recognised VR’s advantages, especially while dealing with young children. 

For example, those with bone cancer and sarcoma, are already really weak after chemotherapy and the surgery affects them psychologically also. It is very hard for doctors to become friends with the kids, and gone are the days of giving them chocolate to impress them. That’s how I decided to use Google Carboard to distract them and help them with moving their limbs post-surgery. It immerses them and decreases the pain and anxiety,” he explains.

“It doesn’t require fancy or expensive equipment, and I really hope more doctors take it up to help their patients. It’s already a very popular practice in the west,” Dr Pramod adds.

It’s not just in healthcare, several MNCs in the country are already using the concept to conduct interviews and choose candidates. Jignesh Talasila, co-founder of Loop Reality, has partnered with many companies in India to introduce a product titled ‘perspectAI’ – a VR solution measuring true human potential and enabling data driven talent-decisions for a modern workplace. 

“It analyses personality traits, cognitive skills, culture fit and so on to improve the quality of hires, build efficient teams, and streamline talent assessment strategies, with a great candidate experience,” he explains.

He also talks about the application in fitness to create a virtual gym, which would constantly motivate users who could work out from the comforts of their home. Even disabled people can practise movements according to their body, with personal trainers providing tips from inside the headset. Professional athletes could prepare for marathons or sporting events months earlier, in a virtual manner. 

“However, this project is a long-term one that will involve a learning curve and money as well, so we will have to wait for virtual gyms to become popular.” For now, a new breed of entrepreneurs is all set to take it step by step. Vinod Kumar from Coimbatore, who uses VR to run his business, says, “Clients are impressed that we can show them an exact virtual plan even before the ground work starts. It is also pretty affordable these days, as opposed to popular perception.”

What are VR and AR ?
Virtual reality: An artificial environment created by software, experienced wearing a headset over the eyes, and makes the user suspend belief and accept it as a real-life scenario in which they are present.
Augmented reality: When technology is used to superimpose information such as sounds, images and text, etc on the real world around us and provides the user an interactive environment where virtual meets reality i.e games such as Pokemon Go using the mobile phone.

Popular Headsets

HTC Vive: Rs 69,990.

PlayStation VR: Rs 25,990.

Oculus Rift: Rs 29,200.

Samsung Gear: Rs 4,170.

Irusu Monster: Rs 1,750.

Google Cardboard: Rs 499.

VR applications

  • VR can be used to provide an immersive entertainment experience. Watching VR movies will provide a leg up over the current widely prevalent 3D format as it would allow users to engage with the surroundings and imagery.
  • In tourism to promote destination by giving an immersive tour of the sights and sounds in order to entice potential visitors to a destination.
  • Museums promote their displays and for certain fests and celebrations. VR transports users to the museums and enables them to tour the facility without being physically present at the location.
  • To treat a range of conditions from anxiety to PTSD by providing sufferers an avenue to engage with their triggers and process any trauma effectively to overcome their fears and pain points. 
  • VR is also used to help people on the autism spectrum to get familiar with social situations and interacts without overstimulation.
  • In design in the fields of architecture and automotives as it allows designers and architects to experience a 3D simulation of the design. Thereby making it easier to identify faults and implement improvements and changes.
  • It can be used for an immersive shopping experience without having to visit a store by virtually recreating the store environment.
  • Surgeons and medical students simulate surgeries and practice, learn and even diagnose in a safe, stress-free environment without any harmful real world implications.
  • In healthcare to help stroke, cancer and brain injury victims to regain cognitive and motor functions in tandem with physical therapy.

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