- We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic and technology is stepping up to help combat it.
- From social distancing to patient self-isolation, both VR and AR technologies are helping to bring people closer.
- VR simulations are assisting healthcare providers and researchers to fight the growing coronavirus pandemic.
- Stay safe and keep all VR/MR/AR gear disinfected both before and after use.
The year 2020 hasn’t been off to a great start and foremost on everyone’s mind is the current global health crisis. With growing fears, insecurities and a sadly large amount of misinformation out there.
It’s starting to seem like our way of life is in need of serious changes. Both in keeping us safe, informed and protected.
Here is where technology comes in. For years we have known that Virtual Reality with its brother Augmented Reality could play a great role in remote or off-site collaborations, entertainment, and e-commerce.
Now we are seeing just how vital a role it can play when we are forced to find new ways to go about our daily lives.
VR vs Coronavirus: Remote Patient Monitoring
One of the main selling points of the VR and AR revolution is its ability to allow for remote work. None more true than in the medical space where we are seeing companies use the technology to assist patients suffering from the virus.
Take for example XRHealth, an American-based company, will be providing VR headsets that are set up with the company’s specialized extended reality technology solutions and data analysis. These headsets will also include apps that will allow patients to take virtual tours of numerous geographical destinations.
As part of the partnership, Sheba medical center in Israel will be using telemedicine as the primary means of interacting and treating the group of Israelis on site. Those who have had exposure to the COVID-19 virus will be grouped in a special quarantined area on campus.
Utilizing multiple technologies, including the VR headsets, Sheba staff will be able to continuously monitor those quarantined while having very limited physical interaction.
“The ability to strap on a headset, lay back, relax and virtually visit any location they want will help patients to remain connected with the world and cope with feelings of isolation while being quarantined,” said Eran Orr, CEO of XRHealth, the first certified “extended reality” medical company in the world.
“Our VR treatment platform also has programs that assist in working through stress and anxiety, which obviously are also prominent concerns for those being treated for coronavirus.”
The Sheba Medical Center has publicly embraced telemedicine in the past to treat patients remotely. Late last year, Sheba announced a partnership with XRHealth to establish the first fully VR-based hospital, utilizing XRHealth’s technology throughout each department.
But patient care is not the only use of this technology in the coronavirus fight.
VR and AR are allowing doctors, government, scientists and healthcare specialists to visualize the massive amount of data generated by the rapid spread of the virus. And tracking the virus is an important step in combating it.
This is not all, the remote cooperative nature of VR technologies can be used to allow various collaborations in real-time. This allows scientists and doctors to take the progress they make and share it in a way that both promotes the rapid development of a cure or vaccines and keeps the various researches safe.
There is also the ability to use AR data-overlay for real-time access to the data which is crucial for researchers, allowing them to work more effectively – with both hands-frees.
VR vs Coronavirus: Remote Working
Medicine isn’t the only field seeing more use for both AR and VR technologies as companies from around the world are telling their staff to work from home if possible. But nothing beats the ability to talk and communicate ideas in a physical space.
VR gives the next best thing. By allowing workers to communicate face to face, share ideas and work in group settings, some companies are able to function as close to pre-outbreak conditions.
Until recently, only 3.4% of the American workforce actually worked remotely. This means that with all the prospects of VR and AR on the table, not many were taking advantage of it. This inevitably leads to slower adaptation and advancements in the field.
This is no longer the case. Now companies and developers are scrambling to push out both hardware and software that are specifically targeting remote usage.
VR vs Coronavirus: Remote Learning
Most schools and educational institutions are taking precautions by closing down as a result of the outbreak.
Some are taking a step further by adopting remote learning platforms with the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology to ensure that there is as little disruption to the learning process as possible given the circumstances.
While social distancing is still the new norm, students can still interact with each other using tools that incorporate technologies such as Social VR.
In a nutshell, this is getting together in a simulated world using a virtual reality (VR) system and social VR app. Participants appear as avatars in environments that can be lifelike or fantasy worlds. One can already see the possibility of such technology for the educational market.
Let’s not forget these technologies have a strong foundation in training. With the current health pandemic, VR and AR software can be used to train and educate both healthcare professionals and regular individuals on how to spot the symptoms of the virus infection.
VR vs Coronavirus: Remote Entertainment
Apart from the news, there has been a drastic increase in cancellations and postponement of both TV series, sporting events, live shows and movies. Plus with the advice of government and health care officials to practice social distancing, it’s becoming harder to keep entertained.
Humans living in this decade are used to being able to freely access content on-demand, be it sports, music or movies. But now most are relegated to reruns and pre-existing content.
The NHL, MLS, CFL, NBA, and MLB are all on hiatus as part of North America’s collective effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Another wildly popular sector of competitive entertainment is similarly affected by the coronavirus, although it’s receiving less attention from the mainstream media. This is the world of e-sports. Not tournaments for the year have already been canceled or postponed.
And to no surprise to anyone, online gaming has taken on a massive amount of new users. With up to 75% surge in online gaming since the outbreak started.
According to the independently-run SteamDB,
the online digital games marketplace Steam had an all-time peak number of users online during the weekend of March 14, hitting a high of 20.3 million simultaneous players on the afternoon of March 15.
This is a new record over the previous high of around 19 million, which was only achieved about a month ago.
In fairness, when you look at the numbers, roughly 15 million of those users simply had the Steam application open, whether they were shopping, using the chat application, or simply left it running in the background. Players who were actually in-game on Steam peaked at just over 6 million.
You might be asking where VR and AR fit in all of this and the answer is rather simple. There are a number of VR and AR games available out in the wild but they still only represent a small percentage of the overall games database. However, those that do exist have seen a massive increase in usage over the last few weeks.
And as the outbreak continues and we all are forced to stay in more, this will only increase.
A large reason why people are talking about VR in the wake of the coronavirus crisis is due to its ability to combat self-isolation.
We understand that social VR applications still have a long way to go before evolving into our own personal worlds, but even in its current form, it’s undeniably compelling to meet up with a virtual avatar of your friend online and then hang out together.
“You’ll find that different apps specialize in different areas, so it’s good to give them all a look. Rec Room, for example, has a lot of different activities from paintball to co-op questing. AltspaceVR, meanwhile, has a full roster of live events to check out.
With Bigscreen, you can even share your PC screen with others to watch videos or share other content with each other. And VRChat holds a sprawling user-created world with something new to see around every corner.
Best of all, these are all free experiences.”
This is a time where developers can bring to the forefront the true limits of their creativity.
VR vs Coronavirus: Remote Shopping
But for the average person out there, VR and AR technologies is not without its uses. The idea of shopping online from the comfort of your couch has now become the hallmark of 21st-century adults. The virus outbreak seems to be one more reason not to stop the trend.
Be that as it may, there is something to be said about seeing what it is you are purchasing before you take the plunge and drain the content of your wallet.
This is where VR and AR have been making waves over the last few years. And now this feature has taken on a life of its own. As more users are using the technology to perform safe shopping and even home improvement projects that were put on the back burner but now have plenty of time to carry out.
It is still not certain when there will be or if there will be a total shutdown of large stores and shopping malls during this outbreak. Yet, some retailers are already making plans to all incorporate virtual tours, apps that allow you to try out products and much more using VR and AR technologies so as to retail a decent bottom line during this crisis.
VR vs Coronavirus: Stay Safe!
There are a number of ways that VR and AR tech are helping to keep us safe during this global outbreak. One of which is in conjunction with machine learning that allows us to run simulations of varying scenarios and create adaptive measures to combat the spread of the virus.
By creating digital twins of various locations, companies and governments are able to track, recreate and plan for various scenarios that might occur as a result of the health pandemic in any given location.
An example of this would be how crowded a hospital might become when hit with an influx of patients and how best to organize it’s available resources as needed. Or who to manage and spot panic buying within a shop or mall. A school could plan the effective disinfection of its building and the factory management can finally see how fast could the disease spread with current safety regulations.
This falls under both crisis management and preparations.
Spread the awareness
Both healthcare workers and researchers can be trained in VR.
There is a possibility to develop a highly realistic simulation that allow researchers to study the virus remotely plus give training on interaction with the infected person (including runny nose, coughing and so on), packed with safety tips, quiz, a set of symptoms to spot or and a procedure of i.e. washing hands properly.
Clear your head (and headset)
The current health crisis has redefined how we see our worlds and this scares most of us. But we can not allow rumors, fear, and misinformation to lead us down into hysteria.
Both VR and AR technologies are excellent tools, amongst many, we can use to fight the misinformation, collaborate from a safe distance and stay entertained while being productive. We all have our parts to play, from developers, VR/AR startups to large corporations and the average consumer.
For those already using these technologies, it might be fine to see just how far it can go towards creating a safer work environment. And those considering the technology, this might just be the right time to take the plunge.
While we have spoken at length on the advantages and uses of these technologies during this pandemic. It should be also noted that the VR gear itself is a device that makes frequent or constant contact with the areas of your body that are most prone as an entry point to the infection.
We, therefore, recommend following strict disinfection protocols both before and after each use. Especially for devices that are shared amongst multiple users.
For the majority VR or mixed reality devices out there and their controllers, alcohol-free antibacterial wipes will do the job.
Make sure to wipe down all of the hard surfaces, with particular focus on the areas you’re likely to touch the most. Key areas include the top and bottom of the eyepiece, which you grab when putting on and taking off the headset.