COVID-19 VR Training With Virus-Free Headsets

Two women-founded XR companies have partnered to provide free COVID-19 training.

Back in March, Wendy Morgan, CEO and co-founder of Shift got a call from a fellow entrepreneur asking if she had thought of using VR to train people working in the pop-up hospitals being set up to deal with the extra influx of coronavirus patients that states were expecting from the pandemic. 

This prompted the Shift team to adapt their technology – originally developed for training teachers to recognize and mitigate implicit bias in the classroom – to help with the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our goal was to provide virtual reality COVID-19 training for healthcare workers and those working in post-acute care and long-term care facilities who are being asked to engage in care that is outside their normal practice as well as for those whose training is out of date,” Morgan explains.

The company, which is based in the small town of Bend, Oregon, quickly partnered with Lane Workforce Partnership and got support from the Facebook Foundation through the East Cascade Workforce Improvement Board. The curriculum content and scenarios have been supplied by the University of Portland School of Nursing. This got the attention of the Oregon COVID-19 task force as they were looking for training solutions during the crisis.

At around the same time, Amy Hedrick, CEO and co-founder of CleanBox was also doing her bit to help with the crisis by retrofitting some of their machines – which use UVC light to disinfect VR headsets between uses – to be donated to hospitals, where they made it possible for healthcare workers to decontaminate and safely reuse their N-95 masks.

Hedrick explains that Cleanbox has since gone on to announce a new machine called CleanDefense, specifically designed to disinfect Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and help healthcare workers deal with the ongoing shortages of these essential supplies.

“The desire to help first responders and other front line workers is personal. Almost everyone in our team has been impacted in some way by this pandemic. As individuals and as a company, we wanted to make a difference and to it quickly,” says Hedrick.

The need for Cleanbox’s original use, however (making it safe for different people to use the same VR headset) is stronger than ever, and will likely become the new industry standard going forward.

In fact, when Morgan was setting up the logistics for delivering Shift’s virtual training, one of the first questions funders asked was how they would make sure the headsets did not spread COVID. Cleanbox, she recalls, was already on their radar, and the two entrepreneurs were introduced via a mutual connection at the WXR fund, which primarily invests in promising XR ventures by female entrepreneurs.

“We needed to create a training where geography is not a barrier, financial issues are not a barrier, time is not a barrier,” Morgan explains. “VR is ideal for preparing healthcare workers for high-risk environments without exposing them to real-world risks. In a normal setting, this training requires healthcare trainers and supplies, both of which are now in short supply. Through VR, people can learn and practice in a realistic environment, with full movement, before having to step into a hospital.”

So far Shift has developed training for the Oculus Quest on the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, proper hand hygiene, contamination in a COVID-19 ward and hospital setting. The immersive training consists of sessions lasting between 15 and 20 minutes in VR which will be used to teach key skills such as choice and use of PPE, patient personal care and hygiene, and COVID-19 test procedures.

Following feedback from their first beta testing they will be gathering feedback and making updates before running a second, larger test and starting rolling out in Eugene, Crook County, Bend, and Portland. Within the next three to four weeks at 15 sites statewide. Each site will have five headsets and the site staff will be trained on how to properly sanitize the equipment with Cleanbox technology between uses. With locations capable of training multiple people at once, hundreds of people throughout the state should be able to access the curriculum each day.

Shift’s COO and co-founder Maggie Hubbell adds that in the near term, this will provide a no-barrier solution to help bring the skills needed to people on the front lines. “Long-term, this training will continue to be vital to bring our national systems back into balance.”

“There is a very large role for XR as the pandemic continues to unfold and as the world finds its new normal. In healthcare particularly, the need to utilize VR for things like Fundamental Skills training for those in nursing school, orientation for the onboarding process for nurses into hospitals, as well as device training that cannot now be done face to face,” she concludes.

Image Credit: Shift, Cleanbox

About the Scout

Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio runs the Tech Trends blog and contributes to Ars Technica, Quartz, Newsweek, The Next Web, and others. She is also writing VRgins, a book about sex and relationships in the virtual age. She lives in the UK.

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