Virtual Reality Technology for Hospital Pain Management

The use of virtual reality (VR) technology was superior to standard controlled distraction therapy for the management of pain in hospitalized patients, according to a study reported in JMIR Mental Health.1 Both interventions produced significant reductions in pain after a single treatment, with more patients reporting improvement in the VR group.

Study participants were divided into 2 groups of 50 patients aged 18 years or older, recruited at separate times from the Inpatient Specialty Program at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, for each of the 2 protocols. Mean baseline pain scores were equal in both groups: 5.4 points on a patient-rated scale of 0, indicating no pain, to 10, indicating “the worst pain of your life”.

In the first 3 months of the trial, group 1 was subjected to a 3-dimensional VR pain distraction experience, using a Samsung Gear Oculus headset and Samsung Galaxy S7 phone (chosen because of its high-quality images and easy commercial availability). The patients were shown a medium-intensity pain distraction video game, “Pain RelieVR,” transporting them into an immersive fantasy world. The 15-minute program was designed specifically for patients who are bedbound and have limited movement.

The second cohort, evaluated during the next 3 months, was provided a two-dimensional experience that involved watching a high-definition video of nature scenes accompanied by a relaxing audio track of Native American music.

Sixty-five percent of patients treated with VR technology reported experiencing pain relief compared with 40% given the audiovisual distraction treatment (P =.01). Patients exposed to VR had their pain scores reduced by 24% (P <.001) after the intervention, whereas the control group that was shown a two-dimensional video reported a mean reduction of 13.2% (P <.001). The researchers evaluated the between-group difference, using an η2 parameter to assess “how much of the variation in the sample can be explained by the interaction;” calculated η2 was 0.07, indicating a role for VR in reducing pain scores.

The investigators observed that the current study was unique, in that it assessed the efficacy of VR in reducing pain from a broad range of causes (eg, resulting from surgery, orthopedic, cardiac, or neurological causes), vs a specific type of pain. In addition, VR technology was found to be both safe and practical for the range of patients treated in the study.

Pain among hospitalized patients is extremely common. A large-scale study of pain in hospital wards from 2004 reported that 43% of hospitalized patients experience pain, of which 20% was categorized as “severe,” and 12% as “unbearable.”2 The researchers concluded that VR therapy offers significant potential as an adjunctive pain management tool in hospital settings.


Although multivariable regression analysis was used in the current study, the protocol  was not a randomized controlled trial.

One of the main limitations to the study was that it evaluated the effect of a single intervention, which was of short duration, and included a single visualization. In addition, the effects of VR on pain re-occurrence after the initial intervention, pharmacologic treatments for pain, or length of hospital stay were not evaluated.


3-D TV Tech Finally Finds Good Use Streaming NBA Action in Virtual Reality

MY FIRST FIVE minutes watching NextVR’s livestream of a Golden State Warriors game was average by VR standards. An entertaining way of watching basketball, but nothing special. Everything changed about 10 minutes in. By that point, I usually feel a headache coming on and want to rip the headset off. I didn’t feel that, and then I realized why: the world that NextVR creates lacks the image distortion and inaccurate scale so common in VR. It looks like the real world. What makes the experience so immersive is not what you notice, but what you don’t.

Even if you’ve seen sports in VR before, you’ve never seen anything like sports in NextVR. What makes it revolutionary isn’t how it looks, but how it’s created. Live VR produced by other broadcast platforms like Intel TrueVR and Fox Sports VR combines images captured by multiple cameras with a wide field of view. NextVR’s presentation relies on technology developed for 3-D gaming and television, which creates a far more immersive experience that could become the future of VR.

In a League of Its Own

When NextVR launched in 2009, it was developing compression technology for broadcasting 3-D content. Creating a 3-D picture requires broadcasting two images—a left-eye view and right-eye view. There’s a lot of overlap in the middle, and NextVR’s created a clever way of reducing redundancy in the two images, making 3-D video easier to transmit.

Then the 3-D TV market collapsed. In 2012, with pretty much nowhere else to go, NextVR switched to virtual reality. CEO and Co-Founder David Cole, a self-described “old dog” in VR who worked for a Kodak subsidiary in the ’90s, started meeting with the same broadcasters he met months before while pitching his 3-D tech. This time, pitching the company’s stereoscopic compression for VR. He already knew it was fast enough for live broadcasts. Sporting events—the big reason people still watch live TV—seemed a natural fit.

Five years later, Cole’s company is a major player in the NBA’s forward-thinking ethos. The league, which long ago embraced social media—more than 22 million followers on Instagram alone—offered NextVR’s weekly broadcasts for free to anyone holding an NBA League Pass. It announced a multi-year deal with the company in January, and accommodates its needs in everything from camera placement to seats for its broadcasters.

All of this shows in the quality of NextVR’s broadcasts. The company primarily utilized four cameras during the broadcast I watched, with on one on each basket, one at midcourt, and one roaming the stadium. That game—the Warriors played the Minnesota Timberwolves—was such a back-and-forth affair that my view mostly switched between the two hoops. I should have found the frequent cuts disorienting, but I didn’t have any trouble once I figured out when and how the camera angle would change based on the action on court. By the end, watching the game in VR felt almost as natural as watching it on television.

Shoot Around

This gets back to how NextVR creates content. Most in the VR industry use multiple cameras, then stitch their feeds together to create a panoramic image. Effective, but you wind up with parallax and distortion issues. NextVR’s system also uses multiple cameras, but it does far more than just capture images. It produce a 3-D mesh of what those cameras see. “Think of it as taking chicken wire and running it over everything in here,” says Cole, motioning around the arena. “Then taking everything else away and just leaving the chicken wire. That’s what you get.”

The video is then projection-mapped to that 3-D frame, effectively painting in all the surfaces. This takes precise alignment, and if the projection is even slightly off, the scene looks more like a videogame than real life. But this way, the world scale feels right. The players are lifelike, and the edges of the video don’t distort. It’s a big reason why I could watch the game for 10-15 minutes, an eternity in VR.

Practice Makes Perfect

As good as the tech is, NextVR wants to make it even better. Company brass have weekly calls with the NBA to discuss potential improvements, and at the beginning of the season those calls were long and ripe with feedback. There have been multiple learning curves. The announcers had to change how they call a game, and the producers and directors had to learn how to transition between cameras without discombobulating viewers. Early broadcasts even lacked some of the most basic elements of sports television.

“When we first started, we didn’t have replay,” says coordinating producer Josh Earl. “Graphics were difficult because of the 3-D environment. We say we went back to the ’60s as far as television goes for week one.” The company has tried to integrate new features every week, slowly building a broadcast that resembles a typical NBA game. A NextVR production now includes announcers, instant replays, graphics, even a broadcasting truck. It’s a full-fledged television operation.

NextVR won’t be broadcasting the NBA playoffs, but you can still watch highlights packages and replays of some regular-season games as long as you have a Samsung Gear VR or a Google Daydream. The company will spend the offseason streaming concerts with LiveNation, and may broadcast other events, too. NextVR rarely says no, and has done everything from horse races to monster truck bonanzas. All the while, it has been developing cameras—a third-generation rig debuts for the next NBA season—and improving its compression technology to improve next season’s broadcasts. “Having an operational pressure on the company to be there every Tuesday night is tough.” says Cole.

But so far it’s worked. NextVR’s virtual world—especially when contrasted against the occasionally disorienting, headache inducing real world—is a fine place to watch a game.


Although most people still think the concept of a head transplant is entirely impossible, the truth is very different. The person responsible for carrying out this transplant is also the one who developed a virtual reality system to prepare patients for their new body. An interesting take on things. as it goes to show VR technology has quite some intriguing use cases most people would not think of at first.


Not too long ago, we discussed how the world’s first-ever human head transplant will take place in December of 2017. As uncomfortable as the idea may sound, it is a trend our society may want to get used to rather quickly, assuming it can be successful in the end. That remains a big question for the time being, yet the responsible neurosurgeon is taking all of the necessary precautions to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the patient.

To be more specific, Professor Sergio Canavero has developed a virtual reality-based system that allows the patient to get acquainted with his future body. This is a crucial development, as it will be quite a shock to the patient to suddenly control a body capable of walking. It is impossible to imagine what such a patient will go through once they awake from the procedure, assuming that will happen in the first place.

The use of virtual reality technology is quite significant in this regard. After all, it gives the head transplant patient an idea of how the new dimensions of the future body will feel like. It is expected this process will lessen the shock of the actual operation itself, although it is still a mystery as to whether or not this process will make a difference. Quite an intriguing concept that is both fascinating and extremely disturbing at the same time.

The virtual reality environment is made possible thanks to the help of US firm Inventum Bioengineering Technologies. Future patients of this – or a similar – procedure can use this VR environment over the course of several months prior to their transplant. One could somewhat compare to how astronauts prepare to venture into space, albeit this is a very different matter we are talking about.

Transitioning from a paralyzed body into one that offers the full motion range can be quick a shock, to say the least. Virtual reality training can provide a lot of help in this regard, although the procedure may need to be refined over time. An unexpected psychological reaction is the last thing patient and doctor need after pulling off such a radical world’s first head transplant. It is evident Inventum Bioengineering Technologies is sparing no expenses to make this VR experience as realistic as possible.

Rest assured the world will be keeping a close eye on this head transplant. There are a lot of challenges that will need to be overcome, and there is no guarantee of success. Then again, the patient will be well-prepared for what is to come if the transplant succeeds, which is all anyone can hope for. It is by far one of the most unconventional use cases for virtual reality technology, that much is evident.

An attendee tries an Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR headset during the French telecom Orange annual company's innovations show in Paris

AMD Acquires Virtual Reality Technology from Nitero

California-based semiconductor firm Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) on Monday announced it has acquired intellectual property (IP) and key engineering talent from Austin-based Nitero to enable the next generations of wireless Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) headsets.

Nitero is one of the few companies in the world capable of supplying 60 GHz mm Wave radio technologies for something like wireless VR.

Using high-performance 60 GHz wireless, this technology has the potential to enable multi-gigabit transmit performance with low latency in room-scale VR environments.

“Our newly acquired wireless VR technology is another example of AMD making long-term technology investments to develop high-performance computing and graphics technologies that can create more immersive computing experiences,” said Mark Papermaster, AMD chief technology officer and senior vice president.

The acquisition provides AMD with a broader portfolio of IP capable of enabling VR headset and solution providers with key technology required to create more immersive computing experiences.

“Our world class engineering team has been focused on solving the difficult problem of building wireless VR technologies that can be integrated into next-generation headsets,” added Nitero co-founder and CEO Pat Kelly who has joined AMD as corporate vice president, Wireless IP.