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Virtual reality breakthroughs that could save lives

(TECH NEWS) Virtual reality is making waves in the tech and business world, and healthcare is adopting VR at a rapid clip.

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Virtual reality is booming

It’s a good year for virtual reality, especially in the wake of the most recent Electronic Entertainment Expo. Thanks to VR, users will soon be able to take down villains as the Caped Crusader and even fulfill lifelong Trekkie dreams of touring the USS Enterprise.

It’s no secret that VR is a gamer’s dream come true, but what of applications outside the entertainment world? Most media outlets prioritize the seemingly constant stream of VR gaming updates (and it’s admittedly hard to talk about anything else when there’s a Fallout 4 game to hype). However, a little digging turns up quite a few VR advances in the medical world—breakthroughs that could very well end up saving lives.

VR in medicine isn’t new, but is rapidly evolving

Of course, implementing virtual reality tools in a medical context is not a new concept. The first Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference happened in 1992 and has come a long way since, with tech and medical professionals joining together for talks like HTC Vive and Oculus in Neurosurgery and The Evolution of Medical Training Simulation in the U.S. Military.

Thanks to the release of the Oculus Rift system, developers now have the option of creating apps that can be marketed to the mainstream consumer. VR is no longer limited to million-dollar corporations and expensive medical research facilities. If this budget-friendly trend continues, medical applications for VR could be implemented on a truly widespread scale.

Surgery isn’t new, but long-distance care is

Just a few months ago, UK organization Medical Realities made history by livestreaming a surgery in 360-degree VR, accessible to anyone with a compatible headset. Surgical training and simulation is one of the more obvious medical applications of VR, as such tools would make it infinitely easier for students to learn necessary techniques in a safely simulated manner.

VR also offers the benefit of personal long-distance care, as apps like USC’s Virtual Care Clinic provides patients with anytime access to a “customizable virtual physician, tailored to their personal health challenges.”

Pediatric care and pain management

VR has also been used in pediatric care, which makes sense when one considers children’s oft-turbulent relationship with the doctor’s office. Applications range from physical therapy exercises reminiscent of video games to social cognition training that assists autistic users in adapting to real-world scenarios.

There are even a variety of pain management tools featuring game-like interfaces that could benefit children and adults alike. VR games like SnowWorld have shown success in relieving burn pain as well as discomfort resulting from unpleasant hospital procedures.

Various therapies are ripe for VR

Therapy is another sector that’s highly compatible with VR, particularly when it comes to phobias. Patients interested in treating their panic and anxiety disorders with exposure therapy can find a convenient solution in the technological updates VR brings to the table. The Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego employs headsets in order to “[place] the client in a computer-generated world where they ‘experience’ the various stimuli related to the phobia.”

The Center uses this method to treat everything from fear of flight to fear of public speaking. Similar treatments have been employed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.

Not so fast…

Despite proven benefits, the majority of these tools still seem to be limited to certain centers and clinics. Only time and demand will tell whether these VR applications are eventually offered on a broader scale.

But with the advent of the budget-friendly headset, perhaps that reality will come rather sooner than later.

#VRmedicine

Leo Welder is the founder of ChooseWhat.com, which guides entrepreneurs through the process of starting a business. Using How-To's, Comparisons, "STARTicles," and a community forum, the site gives people a detailed road map to support them through their entrepreneurial journeys.

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Nate app: $38M Series A fintech startup you should keep an eye on

(TECHNOLOGY) The nate app combines the best of social media and shopping into one platform, streamlining the check-out process for hassle-free purchases.

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African American woman holding iPhone scrolling through the Nate App homepage.

No one likes to hop around from store to store searching aimlessly in aisles for all of their necessary items. That’s why the big guys win, like Walmart, Amazon, and Target – they have all you need in one swoop! Users choosing to shop online feel the same way. Having to reenter payment, billing, and shipping information over and over again becomes a pain – or worse, a deterrent to purchase, resulting in cart abandonment- that’s where the nate app comes in.

Nate combines the best of social media and shopping into one platform.

The well-funded, series A startup utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to complete purchases seamlessly without all of the fluff a user discovers when checking out at various online retailers. Once a user inputs shipping and payment information into the app during sign-up, nate keeps the data on file for subsequent purchases, virtually eliminating the time-consuming check out process. If a user sees a product they like from an online merchant, they simply have to “share” the item to the nate app, and it will take care of the rest.

Unicorner’s startup analysis states, “In essence, nate is bringing the benefits of shopping on a centralized platform like Amazon to a decentralized shopping ecosystem.”

Brown leather wallet with tip of credit card sticking out next to a iPhone showing a shoe purchase on the Nate App.

With a nod to Pinterest and LikeToKnowIt, the platform allows for users to create visual product lists on a personal account that can be shared with followers. If a follower likes an item they see, they can purchase the item in-app in just a click or two.

In contrast to the big wigs of the social media world, the nate app hopes that users will purchase based on true inspiration and not a targeted algorithm suggesting what they should buy. Instead, the app runs its business model on a $1 fee for each transaction which covers the ability to issue virtual cards, protect online privacy, and apply available discounts.

The nate app simplifies gift giving as well. Users are able to select a gift item and enter the recipients phone number – if the recipient is a nate app user, it can be shipped directly – otherwise, they will receive a text asking them where to send their new gift! This makes it a perfect choice for the upcoming holidays (yes, 2021 is almost over…whew).

To stay up to date on everything nate, download it now on the App Store.

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Tech News

Facebook deletes developer over ironic browser extension invention

(TECHNOLOGY) Think a muted week for a nipple shadow is bad? Facebook just permabanned this inventor for…helping others to use the platform less.

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African American hand holding iphone on Facebook's login page.

It must be true that corporations are people because Facebook is pulling some seriously petulant moves.

In a stunt that goes beyond 24hr bans for harmless hyperbole, and chopping away at organic reach (still bitter from my stint in social media management), Facebook straight up permanently banned one of their users for the high crime of…aiming to get people to use the platform a little less.

Developer Louis Barclay came up with Unfollow Everything, an extension that basically instantly deleted your feed without having you unfriend anyone or unlike anything. Rather than have users manually go through and opt out of seeing posts, they’d now opt IN to keeping who they wanted front and center.

In his own words on Slate: “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”

Since more time spent on Facebook means more ads that you’re exposed to, means more you spend, the add-on started slowly making headway. I myself pretend to be a ranch owner to keep ads as irrelevant to me as possible (though my new addiction to hoof trimming videos is all too real), and Unfollow Everything probably would have been a great find for me if it hadn’t been killed by a cease and desist.

Law firm Perkins Coie, representing the internet giant, let Barclay know in their notice that Unfollow Everything violated the site’s rules on automated collection of user content, and was muscling in on Facebook trademarked IP.

They also added, in what I can only assume was a grade-school narc voice, that the add-on was “encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules.”

Barclay, not having the resources to fight a company with the finances of a small country, promptly ceased and desisted. Practical.

Officially speaking, Facebook might have actually have some ground to stand on vis-à-vis its Terms Of Service. The letter and legal team may have been warranted, not that we’ll ever truly know, since who’s taking Facebook to court? But then they followed up with a ‘neener neener’ deletion of Barclay’s 15 year old account – which was still very much in use.

Look, Facebook is the only way I connect with some of my friends. I don’t take enough pictures to make full use of Instagram, I fully hate Twitter, my Tumblr is inundated with R-rated fanfiction, and any other social media platform I’m happy to admit I’m too haggish and calcified to learn to use. So a complete WIPE of everything there with no notice would be pretty devastating to me. I can only imagine how Barclay felt.

And in light of the fact that the browser extension wasn’t hurting anyone, taking money, or spewing hateful rhetoric, there’s really only one thing to say about Facebook’s actions…they’re petty.

Sure, they may have the legal right to do what they did. It’s just that when you notice every fifth post is an unvetted advertisement, their high ground starts to sink a little. I mean nothing says ‘We’re being totally responsible with user information’ like the number of add ons and user tactics popping up to avoid seeing the unnecessary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Facebook put up a fight against losing ad traffic.

We all know all those stores with amazing deals aren’t actually going out of business, or even using their own photos right? Right?

Barclay added in his article, “Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.”

Agreed, Mr. Barclay.

Now I’m off to refresh my feed. Again.

 

Graffiti wall with image of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, with the saying "You've been Zucked."

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Tech News

Glowbom: Create a website, using just your voice

(TECH NEWS) Talk about futuristic! This app allows you to create quizzes, surveys, an online store, and even a website in minutes–without typing.

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Colleagues looking at Glowbom website homepage

In the past, we’ve discussed things like simplified coding and no-code app creation. Now, a San Francisco startup has taken the process a step further with no-type app creation.

Glowbom is a voice app that allows you to dictate steps to an AI – from adding information all the way to exporting code–in order to create a simple app, survey, or game. While the built-in options for now are limited to four simple categories, the power of the app itself is impressive: By asking the Glowbom AI to complete tasks, one is able to dictate an entire (if small) program.

It’s an impressive idea, and an even more impressive product. Glowbom founder and CEO Jacob Ilin showcases the power of Glowbom in a short demonstration video, and while he only uses it to create a simple survey, the entire process–up to and including the exportation of the API–is accomplished via voice commands.

Furthermore, Glowbom appears to process natural inputs–such as phrases like “Let’s get started”–in the context of an actual command rather than the colloquial disconnect one tends to expect in AI. This means that users won’t need to read a 700-page manual on phrases and buzzwords to use before jumping on board–something the Glowbom user base was probably hoping to avoid anyway.

As of now, the options one can use Glowbom to create include a quiz, a survey, an online store, and a website. It seems reasonable to expect that, as support for the app grows, those categories will expand to comprise a larger library.

Glowbom certainly opens a few doors for people looking to take their businesses or ideas from an offline medium into the digital marketplace. As coding becomes less centralized in computer language and more contingent on processes such as this, we can expect to see more products from folks who may have missed the coding boat.

Perhaps more importantly, Glowbom and products like it make coding more accessible to a wider base of disabled users, thus taking a notable step toward evening the playing field for a marginalized demographic. It’s not true equality, but it’s a start.

This story was first published here in October 2020.

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