Corrections made on June 4. The Global Spine Congress (GSC) did not take place.
The Virtual Reality models of Precision OS are stunning. The way the controls adapt to real scalpels are other surgery equipment is pretty clever too. Surgery teams can collaborate remotely and practice on a hyper realistic model of the human body. Last May, at the Global Spine Congress (GSC) in Rio, the first ever cadaver-less surgery training course was scheduled to take place. (The Congress was since then deferred.)
In tangible ways, Virtual Reality is providing solutions that are cost-effective and safe. During lockdown times, the safety doubles as the students can continue to practice in social distancing. They are also more effective. According to a pilot study published on the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the leading orthopedic surgery publication, this virtual reality educational module led to 570% reduction in training time compared to regular circumstances, in a pilot with 19 residents and 7 expert surgeons, the VR-trained group completed the task on a real body faster and achieved superior instrument handling scores, without downsides on verbal and written knowledge scores under the Objective Structured Assessment of Technical Skills (OSATS) guidelines.
In the case of surgery training, the significant costs do not offset the logistical challenges of having a supply of properly flash-frozen cadavers —not always with the right pathology match— ready for all students to practice, on operating room that are often needed for life-threatening procedures.
It appears VR in education has, at last, found ways and contexts where the costs are manageable enough for more people to pay serious attention to the several outstanding educational benefits it offers. VR might not yet provide the same benefits at cost for some more general subject matter. For younger ages, thought, it is a lot of fun. Games, art and social interactions find whole new ways to take place, in more accessible ways. Utility VR, or experiences aimed at workplaces and focus on productivity, are starting to pick up steam too, not to mention a sprawling community of enthusiasts and “VR influencers.”
Think outside the VR headset
Understanding the evolution of VR is starting to think beyond the headset. Don’t get me wrong. The fast-paced evolution of a richer market is offering outstanding innovation in performance. Over a dozen top competitors keep raising specs while keeping costs down. But this is only the starting point. Complementary technologies are becoming must-haves for experiences that feel more complete.
Hand tracking. The idea of most people about interacting in a virtual environment involves often clunky buttons. It makes it hard to think of it as little more than another gaming console. Until now. A series of new products as well as fan proofs of concept are showing the possibilities and freedom of control-less VR. With the cameras embedded inside the headset in the newest generations, and a whiff of machine learning,
Haptic feedback. This one is admittedly yet to hit the mainstream, meaning we will be seeing fully-fledged and affordable sets a couple of iterations from now. Haptic feedback gloves (and soon enough Ready Player One-style bodysuits) exert pressure on the skin as a result of interactions with the virtual environment, for an additional dose of realism.
Interested in learning and teaching VR?
The open source Unreal Engine by Epic Games has a comprehensive educational array of helpful tools to get everyone started. The Unreal Engine, used in VR as well as in high-production video games and movies, is free for individuals and classrooms.
Teachers can find instructor guides and a list of recommended books. Online learning courses and a steady live-stream of conversations with the engineers make the package engaging and relevant.
Fully fledged samples ready to edit, and a showcase of student-made models and virtual worlds which anyone can contribute to, complete the rich world of VR training offered by Unreal and Epic Games.