VR simulation at OSF Innovation.
In 2016, nearly 100 million virtual reality units were shipped in the United States, and experts predict it will be a $4 billion market by 2018. While many think the VR hype is fading, OSF HealthCare's Dr. Matthew Bramlet believes this is just the beginning. “Visual technologies are not a fad. It’s the direction of the future.”
One promising application of VR for data visualization is emerging at OSF HealthCare’s Advanced Imaging and Modeling program in Illinois, where doctors are combining VR and 3D printing. “It’s transforming our standard of care at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois,” says Dr. Bramlet, who serves as the program’s lead investigator. The hospital currently prints 3D heart models for every complex patient with congenital heart disease, a practice Dr. Bramlet hopes will soon become redundant.
3-D heart model by Jump Simulation.
He expects VR will provide visual capabilities that physical models could never deliver. “It has leveled the skill gap between various providers by significantly improving the understanding of the complexity of the human anatomy we’re looking at as we communicate among the care team or to a patient."
Outside medicine, academics use VR for experiential research. Tucked away in Brown University’s Center for Computation and Visualization is the Yurt, a 3D VR room revolutionizing data consumption.
Constructed in 2015 with National Science Foundation funding, the $2.5 million facility houses 20 computers that run 69 video projectors with retinal resolution. “It covers about 95% of all possible directions one can look and has head-tracked stereo imagery,” says Tom Sgouros, VR lab manager. “It’s the biggest and brightest around.”
The facility is a resource for all disciplines, granting the art historian an up-close look at ancient sculpture and the astronomer a walk on Mars. “We are seeing some differences in the kinds of things we can see with the level of resolution and the huge field of view of this device,” says Brown computer science professor David Laidlaw.
Most VR devices, like the Oculus Rift, only allow one person to view a simulation. In contrast, the Yurt allows groups to interact during demonstrations. All participants need are their 3D, motion-tracking glasses and they can take off on an adventure to another world.
Aside from software development, the biggest challenge for Sgouros is convincing researchers to invest time in transferring data to the Yurt, a process that can be laborious. "VR is a technology that is still looking for a purpose," says Sgouros. "Data visualization is a great way to serve the technology."