Kam Ng, PhD: LITE’s Immersive & Digital Media
Healthcare is changing rapidly, and the main reason is technology. Moving from stacks of papers to electronic records to sharing patient data in cyber space, the industry is coming to a major turning point. Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) in Lafayette, La., is keeping a close eye on healthcare because it is on a mission to provide immersive and digital media technologies to the market. How does one define “immersive technology,” and how does it have the ability to play a part in the healthcare revolution? “Immersive” is generally defined as the “generation of a three-dimensional (3D) image that appears to surround the user.”
This means an environment is created to simulate either a physical or fictional world. These images can be created by data that already exist, such as Computer Aided Design (CAD), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scans, or by a computer-generated virtual environment. Add 3D glasses and motion tracking sensors, and one has the ability to “immerse” himself or herself into a virtual world as if really there.
LITE is a unique organization established in 2006 as a “Political Subdivision of the State of Louisiana.” The idea of this facility was spearheaded by a group of individuals who saw the opportunity for visualization services and advanced technology as an economic development entity for the state. The organizational mission statement maintains that “LITE catalyzes economic development through innovation involving leading edge immersive and other digital media technologies, and by fostering partnerships that strengthen Louisiana’s economy.”
The organization is governed by a seven-member board of Commissioners whose roles are to represent stakeholders, provide strategic direction, ensure objectivity and credibility, provide guidance and review staff progress. The appointing authorities for the LITE Commission include Louisiana Economic Development (LED), Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA) and University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Not only does LITE’s structure set it apart from other technology organizations, so does its four advanced visualization venues located within its facilities. These venues provide clients different options for viewing, researching and displaying their data – especially healthcare data. For instance, the LITE Theatre seats 165 people and can provide full stereoscopic (3D) viewing of large and complex data sets. The Theatre has a 27’ x 11’ projection screen, which ensures that all involved can experience the visualization. This venue allows any client to showcase their 3D data to a large audience and is a perfect setting for large training sessions.
In addition, LITE’s FLEX Collaboration space is an open room with a curved screen that offers clients the ability not only to display their data but also to become immersed in it as well. The space provides motion-tracking and motion-capture capabilities, which allow individuals viewing medical data to move the content around with simple controls, thus providing a more immersive experience. The third venue is an executive conference room that can display medical data in 3D while making use of a video-conferencing system, which can share data with anyone in the world.
LITE’s premiere visualization venue is its Total Immersion Space (TIS) located inside a three-story glass structure that sits in front of the building. TIS is a six-sided virtual reality CAVE,™ which allows users to enter into the space and be completely surrounded by their data. This facility also offers the same motion-tracking and motion-capture capabilities as the FLEX room, changing the way one views data. Once inside the Total Immersion Space, the door is closed and the viewer is standing in a room that is displaying his/her data. Each wall in this six-sided space has its own projector, which assists in the total immersion experience, thus making data come to life.
These visualization spaces are exciting for the healthcare industry because they allow one to truly see and understand the data surrounding them. Although most medical data generated from x-rays, MRIs and CT scans is available to be viewed in three-dimensional space, most professionals view the data in two-dimensional space. Another element to take healthcare data management to the next level is use of motion-controlled elements. The latter provides each client the ability to move and manipulate data in a variety of ways. For instance, if someone was interested in viewing a scan of a human heart in this space, they would be able to enlarge or reduce data, slice data and even make changes in real-time. This type of technology has the ability to change the way people visualize and work in healthcare.
When rethinking the manner in which humans visualize, training is an additional element to consider since people benefit from educational opportunities, especially where advanced healthcare technologies are concerned. LITE has an unparalleled ability to train healthcare professionals in a virtual environment thanks to its medical professionals and visualization venues. By using its immersive and digital media technologies, the organization can assist with training applications in anything from general patient care to surgical operations. In fact, the opportunities are truly endless!
One exciting project was recently completed for the William Carey University located in Hattiesburg, Miss. In November 2012, LITE began creating a “Bio-physics of Flow” application to provide an interactive method for studying Ohm’s law as it applies to blood flow. Algebraic formula manipulation, vasomotion and pressure changes highlight the physics of blood flow into an easy-to-use format.
The application development was one way to make significant changes in virtual learning and training while also putting the technologies to good use. The app featured real-time visualization of blood flow, muscular changes in arterial vessel walls and multiple background options. The application was made to be easily downloadable from either iTunes or the Google play store, and it could be used on any mobile device or tablet. This app gives future medical professionals an opportunity to go beyond the book and into the actual data being studied.
Another focus area with healthcare potential is use of smart sensing and monitoring technologies. By using small sensors and recording data, LITE could detect and classify health problems in individuals. It is becoming increasingly critical to be able to warn people about potential failures before they happen, especially in the manufacturing and production industry. Imagine being able to detect a personal health problem before it arises; this type advancement could change the way people care for their health.
As LITE moves forward with its mission to change the way people do business with immersive and digital media technologies, the organization understands that true partnerships are what it is all about. LITE’s focus on healthcare is shared by many with a similar passion, and it is a critical area that weighs heavily on many people’s minds. True innovation requires abundant collaboration, and LITE is looking forward to working with other organizations and professionals to help change the way healthcare is taught, understood and delivered.