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Student's using augmented reality equipment

How augmented reality is changing healthcare

Angela Pennisi

Pokemon Go put augmented reality on the map, however Bond University is proving this technology can have powerful impacts when applied in the health industry.

In 2016 you will have likely seen many people glued to their smart phones, chasing Pokemon on the astoundingly successful Pokemon Go app.

This app uses augmented reality to superimpose cartoon monsters on local landmarks, parks and beaches, creating an immersive experience that has motivated many new outdoor walking habits.

Of course, catching animated monsters is only one way to use augmented reality. Although this app has encouraged many people to explore augmented reality for the first time, this technology has been around for some time, and has many applications outside of mobile gaming.

 

 

Indeed, augmented reality is any technology that superimposes an additional ‘layer’ on an environment, changing the user’s perception of that world. Typically, smart phones or tablets are used to view this extra layer, taking information from the surrounding environment and enhancing, or augmenting it.

Using an augmented reality app, we can hold our phones over an ordinary environment and see something new jumping out of our screens, like a 3D model, textual information, or a cartoon monster.

As seen during the recent themed Startup Weekend, innovations such as augmented reality can have powerful impacts when applied in the health industry, taking a new technology from a novelty to a potentially life-saving tool.

The potential of augmented reality in this field has not been lost on the Bond University Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine. Here, augmented reality is already being used as part of the teaching program, giving students a new way to learn about biomedical subject areas, such as anatomy.

With the support of the City of Gold Coast, a team of Bond University researchers invested in augmented reality equipment for a business research project. The equipment provided an invaluable teaching tool for creating lessons that pair a lecture with three-dimensional models, such as a brain, skull, or spine, visible through a smart phone or tablet.

During the lecture, the program highlights each specific structure being discussed. Students can interact with these models, zooming in or out, or even removing sections to reveal internal structures.

Dr Christian Moro, Scientist and Scholar Theme Lead at Bond University’s Medical Program, is proud of the impact of these interactive lessons.

“Through entering this environment, students find that they are engaged with the content, and involved in learning about the human body like never before,” he says.

A key impact of the program is increased immersion for health students.

“In modern medical and biomedical science curricula, students predominantly learn anatomy through the use of cadavers and plastic models,” says Moro.

“However, students have a very limited accessibility of these tools outside their formal laboratory sessions.”

With augmented reality at hand, students are now able to take their lessons out of the classroom, with their own personal three-dimensional models to study.

A similar technology, often confused with augmented reality, is virtual reality. Rather than building on the existing environment, virtual reality involves blocking out the user’s surroundings, replacing them with an immersive virtual world, typically projected through the recognisable virtual reality headsets.

Moro and his team have also begun implementing this technology in their lessons. Similar lectures unfold, accessible through traditional virtual reality headsets, or alternative headsets that use a smart phone as a screen. The resulting student engagement has encouraged the team.

“This interactivity has greatly enhanced the engagement in learning activities within the class, and the students’ ability to understand some of the more complicated concepts covered,” says Moro.

Assisted by a full-time research student who has journeyed from Latvia to join the project, they are keen to explore the utility of the technology from an objective standpoint, and apply their findings inside and outside the classroom.

Already, they have identified many applications beyond their business research project and current lessons, ranging from high school educational experiences to market research and customer engagement.

“We are still early-days into this new technology, yet we will definitely see more and more businesses and institutions investigate the use of this kind of mixed-reality application,” says Moro.

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