VR in Healthcare

Favorite Talks From VR in Healthcare 201610 min read

Nick Rasmussen
Photo: Michael Noble Jr., The Chronicle
Photo: Michael Noble Jr., The Chronicle

This week, an interesting event on the aspects of Virtual Reality in healthcare was facilitated in Copenhagen, hosted by the student-led SUNDidé team. The event transpired on October 27th, 2016 with 300+ on-location attendees, and a heavy load of participants tuning in online from all around the world to see what the health-and-tech innovators of Denmark were up to. As everyone were taking their seats equipped with cold beer, shiny MacBook Pros and a general anticipating buzz, the crowd were strapping in for quite an event. Speaking that night were several interesting profiles including renowned doctors, physiotherapists and VR-based entrepreneurs.

We share our notes of our two favorite speakers of the evening, but will be sharing it all with you, once the videos gets published by the University of Copenhagen:


Niels-Christian Nilsson

Multisensory Experience Lab

Niels-Christian from Multisensory Experience Lab began his 30 minute presentation by explaining a bit about his background, and how his pursuit of a Ph.D had lead him on a path towards a career with heavy involvement in immersive technology. From his office at the lab in Aalborg University Copenhagen he works on stimulating senses to replicate real-life experiences. The lab is exploring the combination of different input and output modalities in interactive applications, and thus – virtual reality is the perfect technological match.

With the introduction out-of-the-way, Niels went on to talk about the definition of virtual presence, and how Virtual Reality can introduce a second layer of presence more realistically than before. His position was essentially: “If you respond to the virtual environment as if it was an actual physical environment, you’re present”. To further substantiate the idea of virtual presence, he went on to present the following cornerstones of the concept:

  • The Place Illusion: The place illusion corresponds to the sensation of ”being there” in the virtual environment, and it is accomplished through technological immersion; that is, multimodal tracking and displays that allows the user to perceive and interact as one would during everyday interactions with the world.
  • The Plausibility Illusion: The plausibility illusion is the sensation that the mediated events are indeed happening. This illusion is believed to depend on the plausible interactions and a credible scenario.

It is fully possible to have one without the other, and as an example, Niels brought up that the “plausibility illusion” is something many of us experience every day using technologies like Skype, Viber and Google Hangouts. We realize that the person on the other end of the call isn’t in our living room, but we have the illusion that he/she is. Therefore, the plausibility illusion is present, but the place illusion isn’t necessary, as dialogue is the only desired outcome.

For more information on these concepts, take a look at how Mel Slater first described these: “Place illusion and plausibility can lead to realistic behaviour in immersive virtual environments” (PDF)

After this quick definition, Niels went on to teach the panel about the three variants of Virtual Reality hardware. He broke it down into three distinguished groups:

  • Group 1: Smartphone-based entry-level headsets such as Google Cardboard and VR Box
  • Group 2: Premium Mobile Displays such as the GearVR, the DayDream View etc.
  • Group 3: The top-shelf, tethered headsets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR

These are great examples, and we’re keen on seeing if the team is going to add a 4th group once devices like the Santa Cruz model from Oculus, and the recently announced Windows-10 compliant headset gets launched. Having standalone inside-out head-tracking HMD’s, might bridge the gap between the 2nd and 3rd group. Only time will tell.

In a breath of fresh air, Niels argued that the Virtual Reality simulations in 3D were not to be put up against 360° video, but work with it in a symbiosis. This is a good observation, and with Adobe’s latest push by adding 360 video editing capabilities to Creative Cloud, it would seem that the pioneers of the creative industry is there to back him up. We covered the usage of 360 video in combination with Virtual Reality in our post on the ways VR will innovate digital design and workflows.

The final agenda of the first speaker was to address the 5 areas where VR can and will influence Healthcare:

  • Mental Health: Mental health can be improved using virtual reality, and there’s already great progress being made to exposure therapy.  Public speaking, arachnophobia and fear of heights. As for arachnophobia – A few years ago, someone even tried a simulation to cure the fear of the 8-legged menaces, but in doing so, created a haptical sleeve to illustrate the crippling sensation of  an actual spider, tip-toeing its way along your clothing.
  • Physical Health: Motivating people to do things. Get up and moving around. He touched on areas where they had utilized Virtual Reality as a way to inspire physical activity. A balancing board for instance, were given new levels of fun to rehabilitation, by making fun, immersive VR part of the experience.
  • Pain-Relief: Utilising VR as pain-relief is something that has been taken into consideration and active development by brands all over the world. For hospitalized patients who have little to no interaction with the outside world, loading into a simulation and being blissfully distracted can be a great exercise of pain relief. This is something that has been covered by practically every major newspaper including
  • Training, Education and Visualization. Since Virtual Reality is granting us access to environments limited only by our technological advancements, VR brings with it incredible new ways to coach and train people from across the world. The next speaker will elaborate on this, but essentially – miles separating teams is becoming less of an obstacle to the global population than ever before.
  • Telepresence applications. Being able to enter in and participate in daily life somewhere you’re not physically present, seem like something out of a science fiction movie. However, the on-boarding of VR makes that less of a matter of fiction, and more into something substantial and practical we can use in our day-to-day lives. An example of how telepresence is being taken into use, is Mehran Anvari, the Canadian doctor who facilitates operations from 400 km. away.

Questions from the floor:

  • “Where does Augmented Reality fit into your grouping of the three types of VR ”
    Niels addressed the question and gave a fine distinguishing between the technologies, and used an “overlay” to explain how AR is being projected into the physical world, whereas VR actually shuts it out entirely.
  • “I noticed that your team is working on stimulating senses. Are you focusing in on more than sound, touch and audio? What about smell?”
    Niels noted that while they themselves weren’t directly working on smell or taste, several producers out there are actually doing this.

  • “Can we track feelings virtually?”
    While not specifically mentioning the FOVE headset, Niels did point out that there are several ways of registering facial expressions in VR. One of the concrete examples he brought to the table, was one in which a camera is attached to your headset, to do the recognition for you.



Shafi Ahmed

Medical Realities

Shafi intiated his presentation by thanking the hosts at Copenhagen University for hosting the event. He recently attended the renowned Copenhagen X, and was asked if he wanted to pitch in here as well, to which he happily obliged. Shafi is a surgeon and co-founder of Medical Realities, a company producing new possibilities for training health care professionals with Virtual Reality.  For those of you who want to learn more about what Medical Realities is all about, have a look at their website.

What was next, was a quick journey through the innovators of time that has led us to today’s modern medical industry, including Abū al-Qāsim – the father of surgery. Much of Shafi’s inspiring talk revolved around a connected world, that through the use of technology has made the borders and miles that separates us, less of a barricade in the way we communicate. While presenting his case, he mentioned Google Project Loon – an initiative that works hard on connecting the world through the access to easy internet. There’s several indicators through the recent innovations in technology, that proves we’re moving in the right path as a species. Another example shown was Codename Akeila, where Mark Zuckerberg recently went to Africa on how Facebook could make a difference, and do their part to connect the world. Have a look at the Akeila project here

While the talk at this point had most of the audience paying attention, Shafi went on to present the biggest mic-drop of the evening, by presenting a brief video on how he live-streamed a cancer-based medical operation live in 360° video, whilst 13.000+ medical students were looking through the camera on the other end, taking notes as they went. Have a look at in the video below:

This is a herculean step in the right direction for the future of healthcare technology. Since it’s launch, the procedure has been reported on by the general press in newspapers on every nook and cranny of the planet. The next generation of doctors gets to see the procedure through the eyes of the surgeon, and any medical student from all over the world can take a look. This methodology and underlying philosophy is very much aligned with Google and Facebook’s mission of connecting the world. The difference here, is that this is specifically targeted to the people that matters most in this world – the ones that saves lives.

One of the final things mentioned in Shafi’s talk was some brief thoughts on Artificial Intelligence. Since we live in what Shafi pictures as the 4th technological revolution including AI – how far are we willing to take this? Will we feel comfortable left to the operating room if we know the one wielding the scalpel is not an actual person? Do we trust robots to carry out this kind of work? Shafi ended his talk by taking questions from the floor.

Questions from the floor:

  • “Are there any software out there that is usable by today’s existing consumer technology? Something we can pick up and give a swing?”
    At this question Shafi drew a smile and went on to describe that the HTC Vive’s controllers made some medial simulations feel real, and that there were definetely content out there worth trying out. One speaker later addressed YouVR which definitely looks noteworthy as well.


As the event came to an end, we left the room knowing that we had just witnessed the first installment of what is hopefully going to be a grand tradition in health-based technology. If you would like to learn more about the team at Copenhagen University, you can read more on their Facebook profile and presence on Twitter. We thoroughly enjoyed the event, will be covering it again next year, and look forward to seeing the event rise in popularity through its coverage in the media.

Written by Nick Rasmussen

Blogging about VR and helping Envato grow their affiliate program.

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