An interview with Adrian Leu on the role for creativity in healthcare

Given the launch of products such as the Samsung Gear VR or Pokemon GO, many of us are experimenting with developments in technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to both create, share and consume content. One of the challenges in Digital Health when it comes to creating an app is where the expertise will come from for building it? It’s an even bigger challenge if you want to find organisations who can build cutting edge VR/AR experiences for you. I strongly believe that the health & social sectors would benefit significantly from greater engagement with the creative sector. Here in the UK, it’s not just London that offers world leading creativity, it’s all around the nation. 

Now in my own personal quest to understand who can help us build a future of Immersive Health, I’ve been examining who the leaders are in the creative sector, and who has a bold enough vision for the future that could well be the missing ingredient that could help us make our healthcare systems fit for the 21st century. I was at an event earlier this year in London where I heard a speaker, Adrian Leu, talk about the amazing work they are doing in VR. Adrian Leu is the CEO of Inition, a multidisciplinary production company specializing in producing installation-based experiences that harness emerging technologies with creative rigour.

So I decided to venture down to their headquarters in London, and interview Adrian.

1. Inition – Who are they?
We are a multi disciplinary team, and have built our reputation looking at new technologies before they become available commercially and how these technologies can be combined to create creative solutions. We are quite proficient in creating experiences which combine, software and hardware. We’ve done many firsts, including one of the first AR experiences. We also did the 1st VR broadcast of a catwalk show from London Fashion Week for Topshop.

We have a track record of over 13 years and hundreds of installations in both the UK and abroad, and we are known for leveraging new technologies for creative communications well before they hit the mainstream; We have have been augmenting reality since 2006, printing in 3D since 2005, and creating virtual realities since 2001. There aren’t many organisations out there who can say the same! We have also combined 3D printing with AR. I’m really proud that we have a finely tuned mixture of people strong on individual capabilities but very interested in what’s happening around them.

We work as an integrator of technology in the area of visual communications. Our specific areas move and shift as the times change. Currently we are doing a lot of stuff in VR, 2 years ago we were doing a lot of AR. Whilst others are talking about this tech, we have tried a lot of them, and we know the nitty gritty of the practical implementations.

We’ve worked with many sectors: pharma, oil/gas, automotive, retail, architectural (AEC), defense and aerospace, and the public sector.

2. What are the core values at the firm?
People are driven here by innovation, creativity, things which have a purpose, and at the end of the day, a mix of all 3 elements. The company was actually founded by 3 men who came from a Computer Sciences and simulation background. It has been run independently for 11 years, then acquired by a PLC 4 years ago, and one of the founders is still with us. Since last year, I have been CEO. My background is data visualisation, my PHD was in medical visualisation, where I was using volumetric rendering to reconstruct organ representations from MRIs.
 
3. Which of your projects are you proudest of?
Our work with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Southbank Centre is one of them. This was the 1st major VR production from a UK symphony orchestra. In fact, there is a Digital Takeover of the Royal Festival Hall taking place between 23rd September and 2nd October 2016. What’s interesting for me, is the intersection of music, education and technology. If you really want to engage young people with classical music, you have to use their tools. It’s a whole narrative that we are presenting, it offers someone a sight of sounds, what it feels like to be in the middle of an orchestra and be part of their effort to bring the music to its audience.

The other project is our live broadcast of the TopShop catwalk show at London Fashion week 2 years ago. It was filmed in real time at the Tate Modern, and broadcasted to the TopShop flagship store on Oxford Street. Customers won the chance to use VR headsets to be (remotely) present at the event from the store.

For me, what both projects show is the power of telepresence and empathy.

4. Many people believe that VR is only for kids and/or limited to gaming - how do you see the use of VR?
Well, a lot of VR is driven by marketing at the moment, and as a point of entry, VR will be used to go after the low hanging fruit. There is nothing wrong with that. Any successful project will have to have great content, not to see any wires, invisibility, to have a clear purpose, an application and ultimately, a sustainable business model. 

For example, if you are in the property industry, if you allow clients to see 50 houses in VR, they won’t make the decision from the VR headset, but they might filter to 20 from the 50. So it will impact the bottom line.  The connected thinking is not yet done, it will come.  I can see VR being used in retail, i.e. preparation for new product line. You can recreate the retail store in VR, reducing the costs with remote presence.

5. What are the types of projects you’ve done for healthcare clients to date?
Most projects were about the visual communication of ideas, of data or the visual impact of drugs on people. Or at a conference, we helped showcase something that is interactive or engaging, for example, recreate a hospital bed, where there is a virtual patient, and you can see the influence of the drugs through their body. 

Another project we did was showing how it feels to have a panic attack - to help a HCP understand what a patient is going through (in terms panic attack). There are lots of implications from VR, the first technology that could help to generate more empathy for patients. We’ve also done work with haptic and tracking technologies. One example is our work with hospitals and university departments, we tracked a surgical procedure, right down to tracking finger movements, the way a student does a certain procedure and compared that to a certain standard. Thus giving them the opportunity to practice in the immersive environment.

6. What are your future ideas for the use of immersive tech?
Let’s return to empathy. You can create virtual worlds, that someone living with autism may be able to understand, where they can express things. It’s about really understanding what someone is going through, whether it’s curing of phobias or preparing soldiers to go into war.

7. In the future, do you think that doctors would prescribe a VR experience when they prescribe a new drug?
It's the power of the visual communication. I don’t see why we couldn’t have the VR experience as THE treatment.

8. What do you think is coming in the future, above and beyond what’s here today?
Haptics? Smell? The ability to combine physical stuff with the virtual stuff, where you can even smell and touch in a virtual world. An interesting experiment would be to see what could happen if we were expecting something but in VR we had something else, how could it hit our brain?

I can imagine a future where we could superimpose, diagnostic and procedural led images onto the patient. A future where a neurosurgeon would use AR to project 3D imagery from MRIs or CT scans in real time over the brain to  be guided by the exact position of the tumour during to surgery. It’s only a matter of time before this can be available.

9. Who will drive VR/AR adoption in healthcare?
It will be consumers, since that’s the big change we have seen this year, in terms of technology that is becoming available to the man on the street. People will become more accustomed to the tech, we can see that lots of startups are focusing on this, and in the end, I expect the NHS will be looking into this as a strategic priority.

We understand that adoption has to be research driven, there is a need for solid evidence. We are actually part of a European project called V-Time, as a technology partner along with the University of Tel Aviv, and it’s for the rehabilitation of elderly people who have had a fall. It consisted of a treadmill, their feet tracked and in front of them was a big screen. They would have to walk on a pavement in a city, from time to time, facing a variety of virtual obstacles which they have to avoid. The system was analysing how well they were doing that.

10. If a surgeon is reading this, and you wanted to inspire them to think about immersive tech in their work, what would you say?
My father was a surgeon, and he was very empathetic with his patients. He always treated them like they were part of his family. He was always taking calls at night from the patient’s relatives.

If in the future, we can create technology, where immersive systems can explain what’s happening, getting patients and their families more involved, explaining what will happen during the operation, the different things that the surgeon can do and how it will impact the results.

Surgeons have very limited time to do this explanation, I’m confident we can use immersive technologies and visual communication to give the relatives the information and reassurance they seek. If someone is presented with the option of having a surgical procedure but is unsure, why can’t we use VR so patients can be right there in the surgery, and that experience could help them determine whether they actually want to go ahead with the surgery or not? Could the immersive experience help someone get past the fear of having that operation?

11. What about VR and a visit to the GP?
We already have virtual visits over Skype, but what if we threw in haptics. You have the doctor and the patient wearing data (haptics) gloves and in this virtual doctor's office, the patient can help the doctor feel exactly what they are feeling in terms of the location of rash/pain, the exact SPOT. 

Or maybe a cap for the head, for when the patient wants to explain about their headaches, being able to point to the exact spot where the pain is the greatest. A remote physical examination in the virtual world with haptics. 

Another scenario, is when I get into my virtual environment, I have all the other data coming from my Apple watch, other biosensors, vital sign streaming. My doctor could discuss this with me in the virtual room.

12. Which country/city in the world is leading innovation in immersive tech?
It depends upon the area. Some would assume it’s Silicon Valley. In my opinion, London is more advanced in VR/AR. Why? London is THE creative hub, and a lot of immersive tech is driven by creative industries.

The UK as a whole has a thriving creative sector, and the NHS could certainly benefit from greater cross-sector collaboration. We’ve worked for example in the past with and Guys and St Thomas.

13. What would you advise people in healthcare who want to explore the world of immersive tech?
People can come and visit us and play with a variety of tools, it might not be something that’s exactly what they need, but it’s a good experience. Inition’s Demo Lab is a very safe and instructive “sandbox”.

 The Demo Lab

The Demo Lab

We can have conversations with people about these technologies, we know how to connect these things together. We’re open to anyone internationally, what drives us are projects that are going to improve the wellbeing of people. What we can’t do is large scale research, without getting partners involved. We can give you a lot of advice, and we can even create prototypes that can be validated through large scale studies. We are open to conversations, whether you are a large pharmaceutical company, in charge of a medical school or even a GP in a small practice.

Adrian Leu & Inition are both on Twitter and click here for the Inition website.

[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with the individuals or organisations mentioned above]

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