In his latest ABC TV documentary Meet the Avatars, Australian biomedical engineer and inventor Dr Jordan Nguyen talks to a paraplegic man who used virtual reality therapy to help him walk again.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Dr Nguyen told attendees at the Nutanix NEXT event in Melbourne.
“A friend of mine, a C7 complete paraplegic had a bike accident which severed his spinal cord – after three quarters of a year, using virtual reality therapy he sees himself climbing Mt Everest while the therapist is moving his legs. He was told he’d never feel his feet again – we not only got to see him move his feet, we got to see him stand,” Dr Nguyen said.
“This is incredible because it’s opening up this whole new area of research which right now seems like magic because we don’t completely understand how the spinal cord can heal itself. It’s like the placebo effect but it’s in overdrive because those signals need to physically get through the muscles.”
Dr Nguyen believes virtual reality is going to change everything, going beyond gaming and into the healthcare industry and other market sectors, taking advantage of cloud, robotics, AI, augmented reality and biometrics technologies.
The next step in this virtual world are just as exciting and involve ‘creating virtual copies of people’, he said.
During a TEDx talk last year Dr Nguyen demonstrated how he worked with Australian holographic company, Humense, to create a digital copy of himself. One minute of footage (4TB of data) was processed by 84 cameras, connected to a cloud service.
“I met my virtual self on stage. It’s the weirdest thing standing face to face with a copy of yourself. Your brain tells you that it’s someone who looks like you but is not you and you have this weird objective external experience of yourself,” he said.
Looking at his own Avatar, Dr Nguyen noticed that his right shoulder blade was sitting lower than his left. Initially thinking it was a ‘rendering’ problem, he quickly realised that it was in fact an issue that a podiatrist needed to address.
“Our brain builds up this whole model of who we are and what we look like – and it starts to cloud our real time vision. And so after having this external objective experience of myself, I went and saw a podiatrist … and it was a problem that was propagated all up the right side of my body,” he said.
Dr Nguyen said Avatars have many applications such as creating virtual offices and emphasises that they do not replace human connection.
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