6 min read

Beyond Entertainment: VR, Robots, 3D Printing in Health Tech

I often think about how much technology has changed in my lifetime. When I was born, Windows 3.0 had been released two months before and the original Nintendo was still king of gaming. Now we’ve got 3D printing, virtual reality, medical robots, and a million other gadgets that sound like they came from a campy science fiction film. I can’t think of another generation with such a distinct acceleration of growth. This is reflected in practically every industry: robotics, medicine, entertainment, defense, energy, and more.

It’s particularly fascinating to me that most of these developments have multiple applications across industries. Some of specific emerging medical technologies I’m talking about include:

3D printed organs

Artificial organs are possible through the use of a device called a bioprinter. It uses smart gel and living cells to artificially construct organs for the purpose of transplantation. This includes organs like hearts, livers, kidneys, and so on. There’s significant controversy surrounding 3D printing in general, but many of the ethical debates revolve around the creation of organs. One particular worry is how this technology will be used by black marketers who won’t have the stringent guidelines of rigorously tested and approved medical procedures.

Nanorobots

Nanorobotics revolves around the creation of tiny robots that have a variety of purposes. The main intended purposes are medical applications like delivering medicine or otherwise protecting the body from illnesses. Nanorobotics has the potential to treat a wide range of medical conditions. Of all healthcare tech advances, the successful development of nanorobots could represent an improved method of delivering life-saving treatments with an efficiency not otherwise possible.

Remember what I said about how there’s overlap between these technologies? Google (yes, that Google) is developing a wearable device used in conjunction with nanoparticles. These particles are specially designed to find and attach themselves to specific types of cells – for example, cancer cells. Then a wearable device would monitor the status of these nanoparticles and find existing cancer or serve as an early warning system against it. An evolution of this technology is the use of nanorobots to eliminate these cells once they have been located. Until that day, traditional treatment methods are still viable until such breakthroughs are possible.

Virtual reality

VR medical training is the next step for preparing practitioners. Virtual reality relies on headsets and sometimes other peripherals to simulate the real world. Possessing the ability to ‘see’ and ‘interact’ with objects and circumstances outside of the real world has purposes beyond entertainment. When virtual reality achieves a level of execution that is immersive, true learning can begin. Imagine the implications for anyone learning skills that can’t be intentionally replicated in the real world – namely emergencies. As a paramedic or doctor there is value to learning lifesaving skills and building the confidence necessary to perform in high stakes situations.

If you’re a combat medic who finds himself in a real battlefield emergency situation for the first time, imagine how helpful it would be to have been trained already in a convincing simulation of the real thing instead of on a plastic dummy. Doctors have residencies for a reason – just think of this as a virtual residency to learn the skill of your choice.

There’s much more to technology than just entertainment. Robots and virtual reality are much more important than just avenues of escapism. 3D printing doesn’t just allow you to create cool cosplay props – it can save lives. Instead of printing kids toys, doctors could create kidneys that save real people who need them. We’re not too far off from a future where that doctor may have been trained to perform the procedure in virtual reality. Technology like this connects us and helps us help each other better. A lot has changed in my lifetime. What will the tech landscape look like 26 years from now?

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About The Author

David Kirby
Staff Writer, News

David Kirby writes about pop culture and tech and can be found at Bardist. He grew up adventuring in the great outdoors with Snake Eyes, Optimus Prime, and Boba Fett.