It wasn’t long ago that interacting computers, phones that talk back, and robots responsive to our every command were science fiction. Fast forward to the present, and these innovations seem commonplace. Even those of us old enough to remember simpler times struggle to recall how we survived without the smartphone, let alone the growing plethora of artificial intelligence (AI) that infiltrates our daily lives. From personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, to self-driving cars and delivery drones, AI is transforming life as we know it—down to innovation.
If there were any doubt about the impact that innovation can make on the world, look no further than AI technology. Education, healthcare, transportation—in the alphabet of industries, it’s hard to find a single one that has not benefited from AI innovations.
One area is combining artificial intelligence with virtual reality (VR). Virtual in name only, the interactive simulations offered by VR are can even be enjoyed in our own homes. Just look at Xbox: Microsoft’s decision to innovate its game console means users ditched the joystick and play using eye movement thanks to infrared and 3D technologies.
But the applications of VR go way beyond gaming. VR can conjure simulations so true to life, companies, government agencies, and even militaries are relying on VR for a range of activities, from training personnel in complex scenarios, to visualizing data, experiencing prototypes, and providing context that enhances decision-making. In sum, by wearing VR headsets, users can experience situations and environments that could otherwise be too dangerous, cost prohibitive, or simply inaccessible in the real-world.
At the industry level, tangible benefits of VR are already emerging across multiple sectors. Air traffic controllers now use simulation to train, while in healthcare, immersive tropical VR beach experiences can soothe sufferers of chronic pain. Also in the realm of health, one of the most promising settings for the application of virtual reality is the hospital. Already, VR, and AI more broadly, are helping care for patients and even carry out complex surgical procedures with impressive results.
Advancing the role of VR in healthcare further, Booz Allen developed 3D Hospital, an immersive simulation that enables training and exploration in a host of hospital-based scenarios. Using VR technology, 3D Hospital’s configurable simulations model key information such as patient flow or contaminants in an enclosed environment and allow analysts and hospital employees to quickly explore trends from different perspectives. Furthermore, by generating “what if” scenarios, the VR tool makes it easy to plan, adjust staffing levels, and tailor treatment protocols.
Behind the scenes, 3D Hospital uses Monte Carlo methods—computational algorithms that rely on repeated, random sampling—to obtain business-critical data. Once gathered, the data is easily configurable for the end user and allows the simulation to be updated without the need to rebuild the application.
Innovation like this requires investment, belief, and at times a leap of faith, but in an age where artificial intelligence can save lives and inform mission-critical decisions, it’s worth it.