When Nintendo launched Pokemon Go in 2016, not many had heard about virtual reality or augmented reality. Most thought it was sci-fi and had applications only for select sectors. Pokemon Go, however, changed the game. People got so involved with Pokemons jumping on their screen that some even crossed oceans to acquire Pokemons that were not available in their countries. In the mad rush, establishments tied up with the company to be designated as Pokemon gyms. The idea was once people collect enough, the game would evolve from being a treasure hunt to a competitive match. Like in the cartoon, you would be able to fight others and become masters. The trend fizzled, leaving behind a large community. Pokemon did not have much to offer besides the treasure hunt. But Pokemon did more for VR and AR than any other innovation could ever have.
Although people are back to playing Fortnite and PUBG, while products from Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all failed, research in the field has taken off. Last week, Russia announced that it was experimenting with VR to enhance the productivity of cows. While research had earlier established that emotional experience has an impact on milk yields of cows, the ministry is trying to fit them with VR sets. The sets would run a unique summer field simulation programme. While initial tests report that VR seems to be doing its magic, the ministry is thinking of expanding the experiment.
Cows, however, are not the only test subjects. Research from VR is being focused on humans and is coming out with surprising results. While VR was being used for testing and creating 3D models to understand the human body, Nanthia Suthana from UCLA is using it to fight memory loss. The team has developed a prosthetic along with VR, which tracks how people form memories and where it gets lost for Alzheimer’s, or brain injury patients. In studying electrical waves, Suthana’s VR efforts help recreate how much a person recovers and how well can all this used to recreate those memories.
Suthana’s is just one of the efforts. A larger field of research entails pain reduction. The University of Washington Harborview Burn Center is using VR to test if it can subside pain for patients while getting wound care/debridement/bandages changed. But VR research is not new to the medical field. Although VR is being used since the 1990s to help PTSD patients, the area of research has expanded. Cheaper equipment has allowed VR being used for alcohol addiction, claustrophobia and teenage depression. Palo-Alto based company Limbix has been one of the pioneers. VR is also being used to cure eating disorders.
One of the most significant research in this sector has been using games. While simulation environments have helped, gaming has been one of the best use cases for VR to collect data. Sea Hero Quest is a perfect example. The game is pioneering research in dementia care. It has 4.3 million players and has allowed scientists to collect 117 years worth of data, which translates into 17,600 years of research.
The findings show that spatial navigation capabilities being to decline from the age of 19, and there are differences in navigational strategies of men and women. Men performed better than women, but as gender equality is reached the gap narrows. Moreover, even the GDP has a bearing on navigational capabilities. As navigational skills are the first ones to be impacted for dementia patients, the game can help determine early onset.
With technology getting cheaper, VR has found application in virtually every field. But its implications for the health sector are significant. The data points can ensure researchers discover many of the problems much before time. Besides, it can also help cure many issues.
But, with the technology still out of bounds for many, VR needs a push again. Although the chances of it disappearing in to oblivion is bleak, another bout of Pokemon Go (AR) like game can certainly do the trick. This time, though, the interest needs to be sustained for long enough.