How Are Engineers Actually Using VR for Human Factors Review?

A design engineer speaking at MD&M Minneapolis demonstrates how virtual reality technology can play a meaningful role in product development.

Jerry Schafer, a design engineer at Kaleidoscope Innovation, demonstrates how virtual reality technology can be a useful tool for soliciting early human factors feedback on a project.

We've been hearing for some time now that virtual and augmented reality technologies are poised to revolutionize medtech, but can a VR system actually help R&D teams develop a medical device? It absolutely can, according to engineers at Cincinnati, OH-based Kaleidoscope Innovation.

"When we've got a team that's maybe across the country or across the world, we can get in here and actually be in the same room virtually around the same product," Ben Ko, a biomedical engineer at Kaleidoscope, told MD&M Minneapolis attendees on Wednesday.

Ko's colleague Jerry Schafer, a design engineer at Kaleidoscope, demonstrated just how useful VR can be for soliciting human factors feedback early in the development process. For his demonstration, Schafer used a motorcycle in virtual reality as an example (as shown in the image above).

There are two ways VR technology can have a meaningful impact on the review of a product, Schafer said. One possibility is what he referred to as a black box review, where an engineer sends a virtual rendering of a product to whoever the reviewer is at that stage, whether it is a client, a manager, a marketing team, etc.

"What they can do, which is pretty cool, is they can actually record their review," Schafer said. "They hit record, you don't see a video of them wearing a headset and waving their arms around, you see what they see. You're seeing them walking around [the product] saying 'you know, I don't like the way this seat matches up with the gas tank here, I think we should do something about that' or 'this grip texture looks a little hard' ... you get that video of them live reviewing it."

But perhaps an even more powerful way to apply VR to the review process is through multiplayer review.

"With the multiplayer review, you've got people all around the world in the same virtual space reviewing the same part at the same time," Schafer said. "At Kaleidoscope, one of our human factors experts is based out of California, and we're based out of Ohio. How would we have a human factors review with her normally? We could send her a prototype and then get on a call with her and we're both holding it and we're trying to describe what's going on, or I could try to spin a CAD model around on a GoToMeeting while she's watching."

VR technology takes the distance out of the equation completely.

"We could stand in this room together virtually and she can be right here next to me and we can both be looking at [the product]," Schafer said. "... You can really solicit great feedback from your human factors expert that way."

VR technology can also come in handy during concept down selection meetings.

Five years ago, if you were developing a large piece of capital equipment (like a motorcycle, for example) you would have five early concepts of the product and you would most likely put together a PowerPoint presentation using a graphics rendering of each concept for the client to choose from.

"But often times, that doesn't help you visualize what the concept itself does," Schafer said. "When you're standing in a room virtually with maybe five of these lined up and they're all at 100% scale, you can walk around them and experience the way they really feel in three dimensions. It really changes the feedback that you might get from sales, marketing, or even users in that early conception stage."

As the technology advances and more people become comfortable incorporating virtual reality tools into their process, we could see additional methods for applying VR to product development.

"We think we're really just scratching the surface with virtual reality, but we think that this is going to develop into a really meaningful tool that we can use," Schafer said.

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