A glimpse into the future: virtual and augmented reality
Virtual reality technology and techniques helped doctors in Rio de Janeiro perform a challenging procedure on conjoined three-year-old twins earlier this summer. The Washington Post reported that in June, doctors separated the twins who were connected by fused skulls and intertwined brains that shared vital veins.
Medical experts said it couldn’t be done. They said it was impossible. But doctors and health care workers in Brazil and thousands of miles away in London found a way.
Health care workers from the two countries first prepared for months by virtually conducting “cross-continental trial surgery.” Using CT and MRI scans and other data, doctors, health care workers, engineers and other experts created 3D and virtual reality models of the twins’ brains for the teams to study their anatomy in detail and practice the procedure.
Their efforts resulted in seven physical surgeries performed by almost 100 medical staff to complete the separation. It’s the first surgery of this complexity in Latin America, according to the newspaper.
This case truly illustrates how technology and determination can literally change lives. Furthermore, it highlights that VR technology has a place in our daily lives.
The application of VR technology has been slowly progressing. Over the past couple of years, the Metaverse and Oculus (now owned by Meta) have dominated the tech news cycle. However, VR technology has functional applications outside of gaming and social interaction.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce First Responder Network Authority and the National Institute of Standards and Technology launched a training center in Boulder, Colorado that combines VR with sets, props and obstacles to replicate the hands-on experience in scenarios such as active shooter emergency, extreme weather, and house fire for first responders.
In the UK, a facility for the elderly uses VR headsets to help hospice patients relax with experiences in cities of the world, space and nature. VR technology is popular with museums and art galleries for providing virtual tours. During the pandemic lockdowns, VR was the only way people could visit these spaces and keep them in operation.
In addition to VR technology’s world-changing applications, a related technology, known as “augmented reality,” has the potential to become a major part of our daily lives, as well.
In comparison to VR technology, which creates a completely artificial environment separate from our physical reality, AR technology (also referred to as “mixed reality”) adds a digital layer on top of the physical environment.
For example, the hugely popular mobile AR game Pokémon Go, released in 2016, allowed players to “see” and interact with Pokémon in its surroundings through their smartphone. In addition, players’ experience was personalized based on their location.
You may also remember the AR device Google Glass released in 2014, which was a pair of eyeglasses that displayed information directly onto the wearer’s field of vision.
Since then, there has been a resurgence of interest in AR technology and devices. Instagram Stories, TikTok and Snap Chat filters (which are forms of AR technology) are quite popular. Real-time translation services allow users to simply point smartphone cameras at signs, menus and documents to see the translation instantly via Google Lens, Samsung Bixby or iPhone Translate.
AR applications are popular among retailers. IKEA Place, a mobile AR app, allows users to see what furniture looks like in their home using their smartphone before they purchase. Similarly, ColorSnap Paint Color App from Sherwin-Williams allows users to see paint colors on their walls.
On a larger scale, Google announced in a July blog post that it will start testing AR device prototypes in public settings, this time with more emphasis on privacy, which was a criticism of Google Glass.
The prototype will primarily be used for translation and navigation, such as translating text on menus or signs and providing directions. The device can also turn spoken conversations into text for the wearer. This could help break down language barriers and empower people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities.
Other tech giants are investing in AR devices, as well. Qualcomm’s AR Smart Viewer aims to be as powerful as a laptop or desktop computer. Microsoft’s HoloLens projects 3D holograms that users can manipulate with their hands.
AR contact lenses are being developed by Mojo Vision. That’s right, someone is attempting to develop AR technology that can be placed directly onto the eyeball. Isn’t that mind-blowing?
Experts say AR technology might even be the next phase of mobile phone evolution because devices are lighter and more portable than current VR headsets and still allow users to participate in the physical environment.
Most AR devices rely on connections to mobile devices to retrieve the necessary data. But someday, as technology gets smaller and more reliable, the mobile phone may no longer be needed. Instead, internet and data providers might simply beam the connection straight to the AR device.
VR and AR fill a growing appetite for immersive experiences that take us beyond our physical limitations. For those of us who live in remote areas where travel costs are high, AR and VR would allow us to participate and access services and resources not available in the region.
At the moment, the growth of VR and AR is fueled by early adopters and enthusiasts. I believe as more practical uses are developed, AR and VR technology could really take off. Where there is a will and technology, there is a way. And what might seem unbelievable, like a computer in one’s eye, may someday be seen as normal.
— Jay R. Shedd is executive vice president of Citadel Pacific, the parent company of PTI Pacific Inc. which does business as IT&E, IP&E. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, business development, sales and marketing.