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Researchers, Software Engineers Team Up To Create Virtual World For Sick Kids

What if a child in the hospital could think that medical instruments were objects from a fairy tale? That’s just one application of a virtual reality dome being developed to help pediatric medicine.

It’s never easy being sick, but traumatized children face more hurdles than most. Researchers and software engineers at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine hospital and the Society for Arts and Technology are joining forces to create a virtual world that could make the world of doctors and medicine seem a little less scary to kids who live in it.

The virtual world is being built in a "living lab" hospital room inside the Satosphere, a 60-foot-wide dome outfitted with 157 speakers and eight video projectors. The dome was originally created to offer viewers a 360-degree view of art projections, but the researchers are leveraging its capabilities to generate all-encompassing virtual environments for sick kids.

The Sante-Justine researchers have some big potential projects in mind—using sensory stimulation to make burn victims think they are safely ensconced in blocks of ice, creating 3-D imitations of a child’s bedroom, and even making medical devices look like items out of a fairy tale.

These aren’t entirely novel ideas. Creative technology agency Obscura Digital recently told Co.Exist that it is building a large-format touch wall in one of Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California medical building. The agency speculates that similar technology could eventually be used to create immersive environments in hospital rooms, much like what the Sante-Justine researchers are trying to do.

We’re still a long way from seeing this kind of technology in cash-starved hospitals. But once LED prices drop far enough, it will be a little more realistic—at least, for the young patients who could really use a break from real life.