By Stephanie Sutton, Editor, The Medicine Maker
One technology that caught our eye at The Medicine Maker in 2016 was augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Most will admit that the technologies are “cool”, but at the same time there is a general feeling that the technologies are gimmicks that will see little use outside of the gaming industry or marketing campaigns. I actually thought the same thing until I researched the technology a little further….
Healthcare is one of the few sectors that has been using VR and AR for many years in very practical and inspiring applications. For example, VR has been used to provide patient therapies for pain reduction, post-traumatic stress syndrome, phobias, and even for teaching people to walk again. VR and AR are also being explored to help with training, with neurosurgeons at Duke University in North Carolina experimenting with the use of AR in delicate brain surgery.
The technologies are also making their way into pharmaceuticals. For example, Jonas Boström a drug designer based in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at AstraZeneca in Sweden, has developed Molecular Rift – a VR environment where users can interact with molecules through gestures. Boström describes it as “the next generation of molecular visualization”. You can read more about his work on our website (https://themedicinemaker.com/issues/1016/entering-molecules/).
VR could also have a place in manufacturing. Last year, I spoke with Angelo Stracquatanio from Apprentice Field Suite to learn about how Google Glass inspired hands-free access to information for process engineers (https://themedicinemaker.com/issues/1016/harnessing-augmented-reality/). Basically, an AR headset is used to help with training, paperless procedures, and even safety and data collection; for example, an engineer wearing the headset can look at equipment and see information about it. The company launched at Interphex in 2015 – and was a hit. This application is actually very simple, but when you implement it on a practical level it can really change the way people work.
I’ve also been able to try out a VR tour of GE Healthcare’s KUBio. Wearing a headset, I could walk around a facility and even look inside equipment. It was definitely fun to try and also has a genuine use. Afterall, a facility can be designed on paper but it’s hard to know what it really feels like until you walk around it. I’ve also spoken with Pall’s Ian Sellick about this topic (https://themedicinemaker.com/issues/1016/virtual-facility-design/) – Pall has collaborated with a company called OUAT! to design a virtual space for users to build a laboratory or a whole facility. Users can set the dimensions and then look at where the utilities go and how equipment might be placed. You can do the same thing with engineering or architectural modeling programs, but the advantage with VR is that you can walk around it before building it.
VR is also useful when it comes to designing manufacturing equipment. Bausch+Ströbel, a supplier of pharmaceutical packaging machines, created a “Virtual Reality Center” in 2011 – VR is used in a variety of ways including virtual mock-up studies, design reviews, safety studies, ergonomic studies, failure mode effects analysis, training, machine redesign assessments, computer-aided engineering and air flow visualization. According to the company, VR saves a lot of time in project work and also allows customers to get involved in early project planning. You can read more about the project on our website (https://themedicinemaker.com/issues/1016/the-machine-maker/).
Overall, it seems like the use of AR and VR in pharma could be significantly more than just a gimmick – and I’ll be watching excitedly to see how the field evolves.
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