Consumer interest in virtual reality (VR) technology and associated content continued to grow during 2016, with an estimated, forecast installed base of seven million headsets at the end of the year. Entertainment consumption habits, improved technology, inexpensive headwear, and an active start-up community provided a strong environment for VR adoption compared with just two years ago. While the largest category for funding and acquisitions in VR is game development, the medical vertical has also been working to integrate immersive technology. At RSNA 2016, both TeraRecon and EchoPixel were demonstrating integrated advanced visualization software with VR hardware, albeit with different strategies for applying the technologies to healthcare.
EchoPixel’s True 3D software platform uses image data sets acquired by CT, MR, ultrasound and any other 3D modality with advanced displays, glasses and stylus to create interactive, real-time VR views of tissue and organs. The combination of technology enables providers to interact with 3D reconstructions of actual patient images in an open 3D space, manipulating the images with the stylus while sensors on the glasses and display monitor the user’s position in relation to the image. The system renders remarkably fast, utilizing image-processing algorithms with no obvious latency while interacting with the images.
TeraRecon and Vizua have partnered in a collaborative effort to make large-volume rendered images accessible anywhere by utilizing the Microsoft HoloLens. The partnership combines TeraRecon’s advanced visualization software, Vizua’s web application technology, and the ability of the HoloLens headset to enable 3D imaging in open space. The combined system facilitates rapid interaction with disparate archived data stored anywhere in the world through GPU-accelerated cloud rendering. By considerably limiting the processing demand on the headset itself, future iterations of the hardware can be noticeably streamlined, enabling longer use by providers. TeraRecon also announced a partnership with WhiteClouds, a full-color 3D printing cloud provider. The new service enables providers to access life-like anatomical models printed from actual patient files within 24 hours. There are no upfront costs to the provider and no equipment to buy.
The objective of both EchoPixel and TeraRecon is to expand surgical planning and image-guided treatment capabilities to a greater level of accuracy than commonly exists today. By using AV, VR and 3D printing, healthcare providers can interact with exact reconstructions of their patient’s anatomy prior to any physical intervention. The result may lead to improved outcomes and improved quality of care. IHS Markit forecasts that revenue from VR headsets will reach $2.7 billion annually in 2020 and that revenue from AV software will reach $1.1 billion. Both forecasts include conservative predictions of uptake from medical applications; however, the unique applications of the technology as demonstrated by EchoPixel and TeraRecon may prove to be a catalyst, pushing the revenue opportunity beyond that forecast by IHS at this time.