VR-based training for tricky surgeries

OCT 25, 2021

How virtual reality can help doctors train for lifesaving procedures, assist in hardware maintenance, make classrooms livelier for schoolchildren, and more

Team Quantum

Except, perhaps, in the case of flight simulators and some games, ‘virtual reality’ is yet to pervade our lives, but that may be about to change soon.

From classrooms to industrial training to medical consultation and training, virtual reality is making a welcome incursion.

At the X-TIP lab of Prof M Manivannan of the Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, sits an equipment that can provide ‘haptic feedback’ (sense of touch) to the user, even when there is nothing to ‘feel’. The equipment has been designed to train doctors in in-vitro fertilisation, an area that calls for substantial skills.

Another equipment is for laparoscopy and yet another for administering epidural injections. These are tricky operations — for example, epidural is a spinal injection; a mistake can lead to serious medical consequences for the patient.

Now, here is an equipment that allows doctors to train extra-well for it.

Virtual reality (along with its cousins ‘augmented reality’ (AR) and ‘mixed reality’ (MR) — collectively called ‘XR’) has wide applications in industry, medicine and elsewhere. You strap a headset on, you can be taken anywhere, including impossible places. (At a demo, this writer found himself in the middle of a crocodile farm.) But Manivannan, who specialises in ‘biomedical engineering’, says a major user of this technology could be healthcare.

IIT Madras has transferred the technology to the Bengaluru-based company Inno4Sight Health and Biomedical Systems.

XR-based training for doctors can bring down costs and minimise or eliminate instances of mis-handling of live cases. “AR, combined with artificial intelligence, promises to alter the course of medical examination and prognosis forever,” writes Ajit Padmanabh, Founder and CEO, Who VR, in the DigitalFirst magazine.

Not just medical training, XR has application in treatment too. Particularly for mental health. “There are medically certified treatments for ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and other mental health problems in VR and AR,” says Padmanabh.

Another major application could be in education. XR can, for instance, take children to the middle of Mohenjo-daro or inside a virtual chemical lab — making learning fun.

And there is real estate. You can ‘step inside’ a building even before it is built, check out the lighting at different times of the day and the view from the balcony during your evening tea.

Alpana Dubey, Technology Research Senior Principal at Accenture Labs, Bengaluru, sees XR as “the smartphones of the future”. She feels that XR adoption “will leapfrog with more technological advances” into retailing, hospitality and assisted hardware maintenance.

“We at Accenture have a dedicated XR practice to service clients to embrace this in a range of use cases,” Dubey told Quantum. The pandemic has given yet another use case. “For example, Accenture has given virtual headsets to its thousands of hires for remote virtual onboarding process,” she said.

Nasscom, India’s tech industry association, has said that the country’s immersive media industry would be as big as $6.5 billion by 2022. A more recent report, by ResearchandMarkets.com, in September, pegged the Indian AR and VR market at $1.83 billion, and projected a CAGR of 38.29 per cent by 2026-27.

“Growth in the Indian augmented reality and virtual reality market is driven by the accelerating digital transformation of the country. The availability of VR devices, growing adoption of head-mounted displays (HMDs) in industries, advancement of technologies and growing digitisation, penetration of HMDs in gaming and entertainment sectors following Covid-19, and high investments in AR and VR market are the key factors driving the growth of the market,” the report said.