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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.

Tech News

This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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phishing simulator

In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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Tech News

Domino’s asks Supreme Court to take up web accessibility case

(TECHNOLOGY) Domino’s is going all the way to the top to ask the Supreme Court to decide if ADA applies to their (and your) website.

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accessibility

As long as your company is following the rules and regulations set by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), customers with disabilities should be able to access your brick-and-mortar store. The ADA ensures that stores have parking spots, ramps, and doors wide enough for folks in wheelchairs.

But does the ADA also extend to your business’s website? That’s a question that the Supreme Court may soon have to answer.

As an increasing number of services and opportunities are found online in this day and age, it’s quickly becoming a question that needs answering. Several New York wineries and art galleries, Zillow, and even Beyoncé have been sued because their websites were unusable for people who are blind.

In 2016, Domino’s Pizza was sued by a blind customer who was unable to order a pizza on Domino’s website, even while using the screen reading software that normally help blind people access information and services online. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that Domino’s was in violation of the ADA and that the company was required to make their sites and apps accessible to all. Three years later, Domino’s is petitioning SCOTUS to take on the case.

Domino’s argues that making their sites and apps accessible would cost millions of dollars and wouldn’t necessarily protect them or any other company from what their lawyer called a “tsunami” of further litigation.

That’s because the ADA was written before the internet had completely taken over our social and economic lives. While the ADA sets strict regulations for physical buildings, it has no specific rules for websites and other digital technologies.

The Department of Justice apparently spent from 2010 to 2017 brainstorming possible regulations, but called a hiatus on the whole process because there was still much debate as to whether such rules were “necessary and appropriate.”

The Domino’s case proves that those regulations are in fact necessary. UsableNet, a company that creates accessibility features for tech, reports that there were 2,200 court cases in which users with disabilities sued a company over inaccessible sites or apps. That’s a 181 percent increase from the previous year.

While struggling to buy tickets to a Beyoncé concert or order a pizza may seem like trivial concerns, it’s important to consider how much blind people could be disadvantaged in the modern age if they can’t access the same websites and apps as those of us who can see. Christopher Danielsen from the National Federation of the Blind told CNBC that “If businesses are allowed to say, ‘We do not have to make our websites accessible to blind people,’ that would be shutting blind people out of the economy in the 21st century.”

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, it could set an important precedent for the future of accessibility in web design.

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Tech News

Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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slack video updates

Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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