One of the fastest-growing areas of technology is in Virtual Reality (VR), or computer-generated simulations of realistic 3D environments. The $5 billion VR industry is still in its infancy stages, but experts predict it could grow to as big as a $162 billion industry by 2020. VR’s primary application to this point is in video gaming, but companies in other markets are recognizing its utility and developing it to fit their needs. Virtual Education Systems in Wilmington, Ohio, uses VR to provide enhanced experiential job training for emergency medical officials.
“Current medical training is limited in some ways. It relies on a student to shadow and observe a medical professional. That doesn’t provide them autonomy in their learning experience. They might learn how to insert an IV but are lacking in the why,” said Robert Moore, co-founder and CEO of Virtual Education Systems (VES). “They can work through any range of scenarios and be confronted with several choices, forcing them to think critically and make the right call. This approach allows the individual to have a realistic patient experience taken directly from a patient case in the real world.”
VES technology is optimized for the HTC Vive system. Students operate the Vive VR headset to interact with one of eight unique, lifelike avatars designed by Sam Gebhardt, Chief Creative Officer at VES and former designer for Sony Pictures/Dreamworks Animation. A trainee chooses an appropriate treatment from a menu, prompting a reaction from the avatar. These reactions are grounded in reality as they’re designed to mimic patients’ actual responses from real cases. Newly-implemented voice recognition software even enables users to interview patients verbally, adding another dose of reality to this virtual environment.
“We’ve essentially gamified patient management. I’ve been a paramedic for 23 years in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. My partner is a 3D Artist who’s worked all over and has about 20 years of game design experience,” said Moore. “We combined our expertise to create a training technology that’s more effective, but beyond that, disguises the hard work with how unique it is. We’re focusing on medical training now, but we see this realistic, hands-on technology having potential in many other industries requiring step-by-step decision-making.”
The company chose the Cincinnati area as the ideal location for their startup because of its proximity to Miami University and the University of Cincinnati. Both schools have video game development programs, and the proximity offers them access to this unique talent pool. VES chose Wilmington, specifically, because it’s also home to Ferno-Washington, one of only two EMS equipment manufacturers in the world. The two have since struck up a strategic product design partnership.
Moore and Gebhardt participated in Concept Academy at Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier, to survey the market’s needs and focus their business plan to address it. They’re also supported by CincyTech, a southwest Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier, which mentors VES leadership across all areas of entrepreneurship. Moore says the assistance has been constant and invaluable.
“CincyTech and Rev1 have provided us with, frankly, everything,” joked Moore. “From financial support in terms of dollars and cents to general financial guidance. We’ve gotten advice about everything from human resource management, to legal advice to overall business strategy. I have a mentor at CincyTech that I talk to almost every day if not every day. They’ve been a tremendous help in connecting us to the right people, and helping us avoid mistakes at every step. We’re where we are—and growing—because of these resources.”