She solves real world problems in an unreal world
“If you are interested in AI, you shouldn’t forget about VR. There are cool things going on here,” says Almira Thunström, business developer and researcher at Psychiatry Affektiva, Sahlgrenska University Hospital. On September 26, we will meet Almira at the Park Annual event in Gothenburg.
What are you going to talk about at Park Annual?
“I will discuss how virtual and enhanced reality can be used as a very powerful tool in the health care sector. An example is the way we have used VR in psychiatry for patients with post-traumatic stress. The patients suffer a lot from fatigue and have an overactive stress system after traumatic experiences. These are some of the most difficult patient groups to treat.”
Building realistic VR avatars that can be included in treatments requires collaboration between graphic artists, animators, health care professionals, therapists and patients. Voice actors also play a major role as tonality can determine whether an avatar is perceived as sufficiently alive or not.
When can we see VR as standard in the healthcare offering?
“In two to three years. There are many projects underway at the research stage and I will highlight several of them at Park Annual. However, implementation does not stand still just because the research is in progress. Many are investing in the technology in different pilot projects and embracing existing research.”
“Implementing VR experiences has not been cost effective until now,” says Almira Thunström. Nevertheless, the growth of apps and cheaper hardware has made them easier to purchase, implement and manage.
So, what are the challenges today?
“There is still fear and scepticism towards content and hardware. Many are afraid that it will be a tool that is purchased without being used. It also requires more skills in how to use the tool even if it has become more user-friendly.”
What is driving the development forward?
“It is mainly those who try VR and discover that it is a cost-effective tool that drives development forward. After trying it once, you’re hooked.”
“VR enables major changes in the range of treatments that patients can receive. For example, for social phobia, it’s possible to recreate a café or a library, instead of physically taking the patient to a particular place.”
Almira Thunström writes popular scientific summaries of VR research at immersivt.se and also runs vrpsykiatri.se, which is a non-profit and independent site that connects to developers and researchers.
“The interest is great even if the health care sector is talking a lot about AI at the moment. What you may not always realise is that there is a very powerful use of AI inside the VR experiences as well, where you have avatars and make use of voice interactions. If you are interested in AI, you shouldn’t forget about VR. There are cool things going on here.”