Augmenting 21st Century Health Conferences with Social Virtual Reality

In previous related posts (1, 2, 3) I’ve discussed social virtual reality (using @AltspaceVR) and my use of it during the recent HIMSS18 conference. In this post I present one possible path toward incorporating social media, virtual reality, and augmented reality into the health conference experience.

The goal will be to smoothly blend IRL/F2F (In-Real-Life/Face-to-Face) physical experience with online social virtual reality and augmented reality digital experience.

The first requirement is a virtual conference space that mirrors, in some ways, the physical conference space. While building such a space may seem like a lot of work, startups are already working on automatic conversion of digital architectural files into virtual reality models and experiences. Most social virtual reality platforms have tools for creating custom virtual event spaces. Here is a tour of the space I used during #HIMSS18. It was prebuilt. I did no customization except the HIMSSTV video and the floating white text orient new arrivals. However, it gives you a sense of how you can move around and what avatars look like.

Imagine something like the above event space, but a bit larger and containing rows of exhibitor booths. Each booth has a table and a backdrop. Both contain, on their virtual surfaces, various branding information (logos, taglines, etc.) and content (text, video, interactive apps, etc.). At the end of the aisle is a viewing area and a virtual projection screen. You are wearing a virtual reality headset and appear to others as they appear to you, as a customizable cartoon character-like VR avatar. You can move around and talk to other attendees. If you are using a VR headset, you feel as if you are physically present in this virtual space.

During the actual, physical conference, videos of keynotes and select parallel sessions are streamed live. Audio is audible within viewing area, but subsides to a murmur when you are between the virtual exhibitor booths.

At the physical conference, each booth is equipped with an inexpensive (~$100) 360 video spherical camera capable of live streaming 360 video over Youtube Live. Here is an example of video I streamed from the recent HITMC conference in New Orleans.

Click through to Youtube and view in appropriate browser or VR headset to view in 360 video mode. One of the four dozen inexpensive #HIMSSVR VR glasses I sent to my favorite Twitter friends work great too!

In a compatible browser you can pan around to look in any direction, including look back to see folks emerge out of the audience to receive their awards. One award recipient was not physically present, but watched the announcement of their receiving the award. If you watch until the end, you see folks milling around, chatting, next to the camera. While video resolution is low, it nonetheless feels as if you are literally present, especially when the camera is addressed, or glanced at, directly.

Here is my 360 video camera rig from #HIMSS18…

Now imagine waking over to a booth, clicking on a link or hotspot (possibly represented by a 360 spherical camera on a tripod) and then suddenly viewing the booth, including staff, attendees, and conversations among them, from the point of view of a 360 video camera among them. The feeling of transition is reminiscent over changing to street view in Google Earth. Someone in the booth looks at you (that is, looks at the 360 video camera) and say, “Oh, hi!” And then conversation ensues. Viewer comments can be seen via the Youtube Live activity stream. (Yes, typing is difficult while wearing a VR headset! One might temporarily doff the headset and switch to web browser 2D mode, or, in the not not too distant future, use a device such as the Tap glove to enter text without an apparently keyboard.)

That is what can be done in the near term, using existing, inexpensive technology. In the longer term, if this is a workable and desirable vision, you’ll see more seamless, turnkey, services offered by startups. Also, we’ll see lots of improvements in every dimension, from higher resolution 360 video (s)ee examples from the recent #VirtualMed18 conference 360 video livestream, which used a high-end 360 video camera) to more customizable avatars (so they will look more like their owners) to cheaper, more comfortable, functional, and convenient (look for standalone Daydream and Oculus headsets next month!).

So, what will a similar experience be like farther in the future, say, by 2050? Try this out. Yes, it seems like science fiction, but then SF has predict most of our modern technologies!

My Social VR Avatar on my Social Smartbutton

Wearable smart glasses and virtual reality headsets will be anachronisms. Their functional will be in us (implants, in our eyes, or even brains), and surround us in such a way we don’t even notice it (ambient & ubiquitous computing).

Here will be a typical morning for a potential health conference attendee. An internal alarm clock gently nudges them awake. Lying in bed, without opening our eyes, we review notifications which apparently scroll up the inside of our eyelids. They’ve been filtered and sorted by our implanted AI assistant. With which we can silently converse via subvocalization, so as to not wake our spouse. We mark a future health conference as interesting.

Later, conference details scroll up the wall in your breakfast nook. You notice a virtual option. You authenticate (to get the discount) and pay via a combination of blockchain and bitcoin.

Meanwhile, someone else, who you’ve never actually met in real life, but is your best friend, sees the same conference. Since they live in the same town where is to be held, they choose to physically attend.

On the day of the conference, you walk into a white room, the floor of which moves in any directly (like an omni directional treadmill, this already exists). You blink slightly longer than usual, an contextual AI interprets this as a command (like a click) to enter the conference venue. When open your eyes, the white walls are now 360 screens surrounding you with what appear to be the actual conference venue (this also exists, and was demoed at HIMSS18 in the Intermountain booth).

Meanwhile, your friend walks across the park, into the physical event facility, and as they do, you see them seemingly enter your immediate vicinity, near the health conference “registration desk” (no longer needed for that function, but present out of tradition, and as a point of common reference, for example, “I’ll meet at the reg desk). Your friend is projected, via augmented reality (perhaps glasses, perhaps smart contact, or perhaps smart implanted corneal lens), into the room with you, the backdrop of which is the health conference venue.

You two then walk togther, to your first session. The floor moves beneath your feet. The venue’s background shifts perspective. And your friend appears to walk beside you.

And so on! You get the idea. Virtual reality, augmented reality, the internet of things, will all work together to create the illusion that you and your friend, plus hundreds of colleqgues (some physically present, most virtual present), are attending a health conference together!

Wrap Up!

I hope you’ve found my fevered speculations about the future of health conferences, leveraging virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technology, entertaining. But I also want to be educational. Just like the four dozen #HIMSSVR glasses I sent out to Twitter pals (just in time for some of you to feel as if you sat in the front row at #VirtualMed18), I’m trying to combine two worlds I love, the HITSM/HCLDR twitter sphere, and the social VR-sphere. I hope you’ll invest some time playing around with this cool tech, so you can become a pioneer in the heath conference experience on demand (after a great book about VR, Experience on Demand).

By the way, great minds think alike. Lot of people are thinking about how to use virtual reality and augmented reality at trade shows! An obvious use is to entice folks into your booth so they can experience AR or VR, and to then show them something about your produce. But folks are also beginning to think along the lines of this post. How can we blend physical and digital tradeshow experiences?

Here are some interesting references.

PS It’s also worth thinking about how virtual reality, augmented reality, and smart buttons and badges fit into today’s #HITSM questions! See my Smartbutton Social Media Sightings Before, During, and After #HIMSS18 #BEAM4healthContest!

BTW, today’s #HITSM tweetchat is about the future of health conference experience, so…

T1: What can conference organizers do to provide tangible value to conference registrants – and those considering registering for the conference – BEFORE the event starts? #HITsm

Send attendees inexpensive VR googles, which work with either iPhone or Android, to view 360 videos of exhibitor products and services in action. Perhaps from the point of view of the patients! Though I’m not sure how many people would willingly go through ED and then into and out of surgery this immersively! (Wait, actually, I think a lot of rollercoaster, bungee cord jumping adrenaline junkies would jump at that chance!). These same VR googles can than be used used by colleagues to attend virtually in the manner described above.

T2: What are some of the most interesting and useful ways you’ve seen conference speakers and panelists share information to, or interact with, conference attendees? #HITsm

Each and every slide should include the speakers Twitter handle, conference hashtag, and an explicit exhortation to share on Twitter. I now do this every time I speak. If you can get folks to type your twitter handle into the twitter client to tweet about your talk, they’ll often follow you too. Another thing I do is literally give the talk before the conference while recording the audio. Then I match the slides to the audio in iMovie and upload to Youtube. And then I include that URL on the slides too. The way audience members can tweet not just the slide, but a close approximation to the entire talk. Getting back to virtual reality, the next time I speak (about workflow, usually), I’ll live stream 360 video. I often periscope my presentations. If I use a fish lens I can set my phone on the podium and viewers can see both my slides and me. In a sense, 360 video is the ultimate fish eye lens! Folks can see my slides, me, and even swivel to observe activity in the audience.

T3: What technology-based approaches can conference organizers and exhibitors use to create new or enhance existing opportunities for content identification, acquisition, and dissemination? #HITsm

Technology-based? Virtual reality (see above) and smart buttons/smartbadges! BTW, there is a connection. These badges can sense where they are and the direction they point. So they could serve to knit together virtual and augmented realities of the health conference experience. Imagine, though your smart glasses, being about to see the “ghosts” of virtual attendees. And virtual attendees being able to see the “ghosts” of physicial attendees in their virtual world. And then being able to communicate!

T4: How can those physically attending a conference and those ‘following along remotely’ originate, share and/or discuss conference-related content? #HITsm

I think what I describe above goes miles toward allowing folks to not just follow along remotely, but rather to feel as if they are literally, physically present at the health conference.

T5: What can conference organizers and exhibitors do to provide additional value to conference attendees and others AFTER the conference is over? #HITsm

Access to slides, obviously. But I think the most important thing conference organizers and exhibitors to provide is a means to continue the networking conversation. Getting people to follow each other, wherever, on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Which is why the “social” part of #socialVR” is so important. Social platforms, like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, allow you to follow and friend. If you ever used Blab or Firetalk, the social group video platforms, you’ll recall that after you register interest in an event, you’ll get a notification it is about to go live. Whether in social VR or social none-VR, encouraging and supporting these communities is the most important thing to me as conference goer. Just as conferences host before and after conference tweet chats, I’d love to see them also host social virtual reality experiences.

Bonus: What are some of worst examples of a conference organizer ‘dropping the ball’ that you’ve ever experienced or heard about? #HITsm

I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never been to disaster of a conference. And I can’t, at the moment, think of any such in healthcare. However, most of the controversies I’ve heard about in the IT conference industry in general have been about representation and diversity.

PSS Testimonials!

From #HIMSS18

From #VirtualMed18

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