How immersive technology is transforming education, healthcare and beyond

Despite the common misconception that they are only good for gaming and entertainment, immersive technologies.

Despite the common misconception that they are only good for gaming and entertainment, immersive technologies. Image: Freepik.

Pearly Chen
Vice President, HTC
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  • Beyond gaming and entertainment, immersive technologies have diverse applications in education, healthcare, collaboration, and productivity.
  • Immersive learning and training improves retention and engagement and can boost productivity and collaboration in various fields.
  • The transformative potential of immersive technologies highlights the need for open standards and responsible development.

Are you ready to step into a world where reality and imagination collide? A world where you can explore ancient ruins, fly through space, and even walk on the surface of Mars without leaving your living room? What will the next evolution of the internet mean to us, our children and their future? What real-world implications and benefits might this technology bring, and why should we care?

At the centre of the notion of the metaverse are immersive technologies that provide a gateway to a more visceral and meaningful digital experience, powered by several other enabling technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), high-speed networks like 5G, and next-generation data infrastructure like blockchain.

As with any emerging technologies that are bound to disrupt our way of life, there are many valid concerns around safety, ethics, addiction, data privacy and beyond. Because we are having these conversations early with the benefit of hindsight from the previous technological shifts, I am optimistic that we can more thoughtfully and responsibly address these concerns early on. However, in order to deliver the promise of the metaverse as a benevolent, abundant, paradigm shift, as industry stakeholders we must come together to build this future based on open standards, transparent governance, and sustainable business models.

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Despite the common misconception that they are only good for gaming and entertainment, immersive technologies, including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Extended Reality (XR) have seen tremendous investment and growth in many different ways over the past eight years since the launch of modern day VR headsets like HTC VIVE and Oculus.

Currently, a broad range of applications and tools are transforming how industries operate, optimize, and create value for society. The benefits of immersive technologies are vast and expanding, from enhancing healthcare and education, to strengthening collaboration and productivity, providing significant value for businesses, professionals, patients, and learners of all ages, both monetarily and through intangible yet profound ways. A recent report by PwC predicts that immersive technologies will deliver a $1.5 trillion boost to the global economy by 2030, perhaps an underestimate given the potential of these technologies to play a game-changing role in preparing 1 billion people for tomorrow’s economy.

Immersive learning in the classroom

The benefits of immersive learning are well documented and easy to understand: when learners immerse in a simulated environment to embark on multi-sensory and kinesthetic learning, they can make mistakes safely and enjoy better learning outcomes. Knowledge retention rates from VR learning is measured at 75% compared with 10% for reading and 5% for lectures, according to the National Training Laboratory. PWC concludes a 4x gain on focus and learning speed through VR compared to classroom learners, 3.75x more emotional connection and 2.75x more confidence to act on what they learned.

With all of its proven efficacy, immersive learning methods can play a role in reversing the trend of declining student engagement, as well as meeting the fast-rising needs of reskilling and upskilling the global workforce. Startups led by visionary founders are pushing boundaries in these areas. For example, Prisms of Reality is operationalizing XR into maths education across US school districts. Talespin is enabling businesses to create compelling immersive learning content based on AI-powered virtual humans to equip their employees with mission-critical soft skills. I will never forget the sparkles in my children’s eyes when we “returned to reality” from our immersive expeditions across time and space to Notre Dame and the Great Pyramid of Giza by Emissive.

The future of modern healthcare

Learning gains from immersive technologies do not stop at classrooms and conference rooms. A study by Yale University School of Medicine found that VR-trained surgeons make 6x fewer errors compared to being trained with conventional methods. In place of cadavers and human actors, now medical schools and hospitals are able to provide more effective, accessible, and measurable training opportunities through realistic holograms, anatomy, and scenario-based simulations. It is estimated that five billion people, a mind-boggling two-thirds of the world’s popoulation, lack access to safe surgical care when needed. I believe that it is a moral imperative to accelerate global access to quality surgical training. This is where XR can play a meaningful role, and companies like ORamaVR, OssoVR, FundamentalVR, GigXR, SimforHealth, and more are working hard on this mission.

Immersive technologies also present powerful tools for visualization, communication, and collaboration in the medical profession. Surgical Theater, for example, delivers an immersive 3D, 360-degree experience of patient-specific models built upon imaging data such as MRI and CT scans. Patients can go on a visual journey that helps them understand and experience their surgery like never before and make an informed decision about their health. The surgeons can walk inside a patient’s anatomy, be it a brain, heart, or spine, to better plan for an operation and create superior outcomes for patients. Proprio Vision, on the other hand, leverages its advanced lightfield capturing and rendering technology to give surgeons the superpower of real-time, intraoperative navigation and alignment capabilities, improving success rate and reducing the need for revision surgeries.

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Furthermore, immersive technologies bring forth new models of therapeutic care delivery. Patients can receive FDA and CE-registered VR physical and occupational therapies provided by XRHealth, for example, in the comfort of their own home through virtual reality headsets. These sessions are remotely supervised by licensed clinicians, more accurately track progress and are reimbursable by insurance providers. Older adults at senior and assisted living facilities can also benefit; they can be transported back to their childhood home or the destinations of their dreams through MyndVR’s recreational and reminiscence therapies.

Clinical data has shown strong efficacy in VR to help reduce pain, anxiety, and depression. Immersive technologies have the power to evoke deep emotions and memories that improve mood and wellbeing, which is why it’s also an efficacious platform to practice mindfulness and meditation. Tripp has pioneered in this field and continues to expand their offerings into augmented and mixed reality meditation experiences.

When it comes to productivity and collaboration, there are several examples to highlight the power of immersive technology. Because our senses are innately 3D, flat screens can be limiting for deeply understanding and collaborating on complex data, such as human anatomy in the surgical examples above, or a molecular structure. Scientists are using Nanome’s molecular modelling software in virtual reality to identify promising molecules faster than with existing methods, in turn democratising the structural biology process and accelerating drug discovery. The team at Bell leveraged virtual reality to reinvent the aircraft design process, saving millions of dollars in prototype production costs while creating a full-scale model of the FCX-001 helicopter in just six months – a process that usually takes five to seven years, a 10x gain in speed.

Unlocking the potential of immersive technologies

It is my strong conviction that immersive technologies are well positioned to help unlock human potential at a transformative scale. As we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, especially with the advent of generative AI, we can expect to see even more groundbreaking applications emerge across industries. I urge all of us to stay curious and open-minded in imagining, exploring, and playing our parts for such new possibilities to bring positive societal impact from this paradigm shift, while staying deeply committed to a vision for greater level of empathy and love for ideas, one another and our collective destiny.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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