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What’s the future of virtual reality, and how does it contribute to digital health? 

(INVIVO Communications Blog, 2016)

The Oculus Rift is garnering attention in virtual reality technology. Here at INVIVO our production of VR environments is in full swing.

As one conference-goer said to our President Andrea Bielecki at the CX Symposium in London, England earlier this year, “If you’re not already developing for virtual reality, you’re too late.”

Our work, and all work with this immersive tool, is revolutionizing digital health. Recently, we demonstrated the possibilities of the Oculus technology at the CX Symposium. Our application for the Medtronic IN.PACT Admiral Drug-Coated Balloon—a treatment for patients suffering from peripheral artery disease—was met with a positive and inspired reception.

Conference-goers immediately recognized the potential impact of the Oculus, “If a physician could put that on a patient and say this is what we are going to do… that would be phenomenal!”

The draw of the Oculus Rift as it pertains to digital health is that actually seeing a medical procedure happening in a 3D environment, and exploring that part of the body visually from all angles, is an unparalleled educational experience.

The Oculus Rift is a conversation starter, one which drew quite a bit of traffic at CX2015. Frequent lines of conference-goers waited to enter the Oculus Rift environment in both of our installations, and those waiting were not disappointed. Its construction was unique in its own right—we took an existing animation and turned it into an immersive virtual reality experience. Our success came from making use of our entire team of talented animators, designers, user experience designers, project managers, and developers dedicated to being leaders and innovators in this newly-attainable digital terrain. We were very proud of the outcome of our labour.

Our favourite thing about the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is an exciting new technology that has opened up a whole new way for us to create interactive experiences for our users. Instead of watching a video, we can put the user directly into the scene so that they can look around and experience it as they want to. Or, alternatively, instead of panning around a 3D environment with a mouse click, we can immerse the user in the environment, as if they are actually there.

Using the Oculus Rift for digital health, exploring a procedure in a 3D environment, is an unparalleled educational experience.

Our work has showed us that increasingly people are very interested in virtual reality as a pioneering technology. It’s worth noting that the Oculus Rift is still in its development stage, with the first consumer version launching early next year. “I’m curious as to what we’re going to see in this first version and then how it will evolve with the number of Oculus competitors coming up all of the time” says our technical director of interactive media, Roman. “The great thing about working with the Oculus Rift is that it is incredibly easy to integrate with Unity—something we use for the majority of our 3D interactive projects. This has allowed us to see some older projects from a different perspective, and then learn how to do things differently, or adapt for the virtual reality environment.”

Our biggest challenge

Getting users to recognize the potential of the environment, and to understand that they can interact with it, has posed the greatest challenge to our creative team. “I find that the majority of the users are so engaged with what is directly in front of them that they don’t realize that they are actually in a full 3D environment,” our lead Oculus developer, Andrew, explains, “More often than not, we would have to tell the user that they’re not just watching a 3D movie and can look to see what is all around them.”

Another issue stems from creating an intuitive user experience—figuring out the best way to inspire the user to interact with the user interface—and, Andrew says, finding the best way to recreate that vision developmentally. “With the Rift headset on, the user obviously cannot see anything around them anymore, so having them press a key to do something would be incredibly frustrating.”

“Some users won’t look around—if they don’t move their head, they can’t interact with the program.”

Our solutions to user interaction had to be innovative. In the case of Medtronic DCB, it involved using visual markers to indicate that head movement facilitates navigation. “For the Medtronic DCB experience, we created a reticle [target] that would stay directly in front of wherever the user is looking, so that they can hover over a button that will fill a progress bar and execute its function once it completes. This was done so the user could see exactly what they were doing, but not accidentally select something that they didn’t want.” However, as Andrew continues to explain, this method still comes with its own challenges, “Some users won’t look around—if they don’t move their head, they can’t interact with the program.”

Our virtual reality trials and experimentation

Our early development with the Oculus Rift began with the Novartis Tumor Explorer— a very successful 3D project that was developed specifically for the iPad. Since INVIVO is known for the strength of its 3D medical animation, creating explorable three-dimensional terrain was an exciting new venture for our animators—our team is always ready to push their boundaries, seeking new realms of exceptional artistry.

Since INVIVO is known for the strength of its 3D medical animation, creating explorable three-dimensional terrain was an exciting new venture for our animators—our team is always ready to push their boundaries.

Tumor Explorer was targeted specifically for the iPad, so our technical director of animation, Vitaly, used some skilful camera effects, selectively using a combination of 3D geometry for closer elements while using 2D planes for depicting objects in the distance. However, as our knowledge of and experience with the Oculus Rift evolved, so did our tactics. Roman explains the seeds of our transformation, “As our technology improved, these tricks became more noticeable, so we were able to see how we would need to adapt future projects for VR.”

Its future use here at INVIVO

In the short term, INVIVO expects the greatest successes of the Oculus Rift to be in a conference setting. The technology is still very new, and we don’t anticipate that the Oculus Rift is ready to become a household staple very soon. However, at a conference, a variety of users can interact with a specifically targeted virtual reality experience catered to areas of interest and expertise.

“The next steps that I am interested in will be finding ways to interact with the environments that we create, not just look around them.”

Roman anticipates future growth will involve greater interaction with the virtual terrain, beyond simply head motion and visual interaction, “The next steps that I am interested in will be finding ways to interact with the environments that we create, not just look around them. Whether it is using an IR sensor such as the Leap Motion, or some sort of motion controller will need to be determined, but I think giving the user a way to manipulate the environment they’re in is interesting.”

Here’s hoping that the Oculus Rift will take us to a fully-engaged body experience.


INVIVO Communications is an award-winning digital agency whose blog covers what’s revolutionizing the med device industry


The Price of Freedom: Two billionaires buy up Europe’s last fiefdom

(The Walrus magazine, March 2013)

Until 2008, the small island of Sark, in the English Channel, was Europe’s last fiefdom. For centuries, a seigneur ruled in place of the British monarch and upheld the feudal constitution. After the billionaire Barclay twins, David and Frederick, bought a private island off Sark’s coast in 1993, they launched a series of lawsuits in the name of human rights and democracy to chip away at the state’s constitution. The Barclays now own almost a quarter of the island, employ over 170 of its 600 inhabitants, and publish its only newsletter. They have met with considerable resistance from residents who question their true motives: in 2010, two years after the island held its first free election, David Barclay tried unsuccessfully to buy the seigneur’s title and residual legislative powers for two million pounds.


The Walrus is a celebrated Canadian general interest magazine


Keeping Score: Social mobility in the digital age

(The Walrus magazine, January/February 2013)

Opportunities for social mobility ought to increase dramatically in the digital age. To that end, Klout, a social media analytics company, promises to break down power structures and democratize social standing: “For centuries, influence had been in the hands of a few,” the website explains. “Klout’s mission is to empower every person by unlocking their influence.” A proprietary algorithm determines a person’s influential “score” by measuring interactions across Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. But the scores are rarely static. They rise and fall with great volatility, and do not always reflect the real world. By Klout’s metrics, the influence of a self-made celebrity can be comparable to that of a world leader, at least online. At last check, YouTube video blogger and bestselling author John Green had a score of eighty-three—which put him just four points behind Stephen Harper.


The Walrus is a celebrated Canadian general interest magazine


Fear Factor: Why pregnant women may be prone to prejudice

(The Walrus magazine, December 2012)

Human beings may have developed a “behavioural immune system,” according to a study published last year in the journal Association for Psychological Science. The report builds on research by Harvard and UCLA scientists who identified elevated levels of xenophobia and ethnocentrism in pregnant women in their first trimester, when they are most vulnerable to pathogens. One hypothesis for this response is that “in-groups” (those who share similar cultural practices) may have developed an immune defence against geographically or ethnically common diseases. The APS study goes further, suggesting that pregnant women, or anyone else with a strategic bias, may be “erroneously inferring the presence of pathogens where there are none.” This reaction could lay the groundwork for prejudices against the disabled, the obese, and the elderly, as well as different ethnicities—presenting challenges, one presumes, for modern multicultural societies.


The Walrus is a celebrated Canadian general interest magazine


Pushing Pin: Why poppy stickers are taking hold

(The Walrus magazine, November 2012)

Five years ago, the Royal Canadian Legion began issuing self-adhesive poppies to protect Remembrance Day observers, especially the youngest and the oldest, from becoming human pincushions. Sales rose from 1.35 million poppies in 2011 to 1.5 million pre-ordered by the summer of 2012 (and still counting). The new stickers have the added benefit of sidestepping pin-related protocol. According to the Legion’s Poppy Manual, exchanging the standard-issue straight pin for a more secure fastening defaces the “sacred symbol of remembrance,” and violates the registered trademark. This poses a challenge for those who wish to wear the poppy from “the last Friday in October to the end of day on November 11,” as anyone who has ever lost a pin well knows. The manual goes on to declare that it is still better to wear a poppy secured with a Canadian flag pin than none at all—or, presumably, a decal.


The Walrus is a celebrated Canadian general interest magazine


Ants in the Arts: Sometimes, to create you must first destroy

(The Walrus magazine, October 2012)

In Chris Trueman’s Self Portrait with Gun, the California artist depicts his smiling five-year-old self (modelled by his little brother) in a cowboy hat and boots, holding a .22-calibre rifle. Trueman, who usually works in abstract, said he wanted to represent an innocent child’s first wilful attempt to attack “intelligent life”—and his first stomp on an ant nest in his backyard. Executed in a style akin to pointillism (“executed” being the operative word), the self-portrait is composed of 200,000 harvester ants, which the artist carefully arranged on Plexiglas using tweezers. He ordered the live bugs in batches of 40,000 from a seller of reptile pet food and killed them on arrival. However, he became overcome by guilt, so he stopped the project midway for more than a year. In 2005, he finally finished the work, explaining to interviewers that he didn’t want the ants to die in vain.


The Walrus is a celebrated Canadian general interest magazine


 My Journey into Publishing: A path for eclectic academics and dedicated bibliophiles

(Working In Publishing blog, July 19, 2012)

My journey into publishing may seem like it followed a straight line from an English undergrad to an English MA to a Publishing Program, but, in reality, it strayed far from a neatly plotted path. My educational path began with a diverse assortment of first year courses at the University of Toronto: Psychology, Calculus, Italian, Philosophy, and English. In a way I still feel like those electives sum up the entirety of my interests; that is, deepening my understanding of cognition, logic, languages, being and knowledge, and literature.

I often found the best way for me to merge a variety of my interests was though my study of literature, whether it came through looking at a text through a new theory or philosophy, or choosing to work with texts that dealt with a variety of different subjects that appealed to me.

As it turns out, the depths of that exploration were not satisfied at the undergraduate level. I hungered for more depth, more theory, and more intimate engagement with the authors I had grown to love and to admire.

At this point I was still uncertain of the career path I intended to follow. Nevertheless, I followed my interests to graduate school, earning a Master’s in English at Carleton University. It was here that the seed of publishing was planted: in meeting like-minded colleagues who may have dabbled in the publishing world, were in the process of transitioning out of it, or were in the process of entering into it.

As I grew slightly weary of literary theory and academia, I began dreaming of working with authors and editing manuscripts, and imagining the birth of the works that I studied. I enjoyed wondering, “Did the author really intend for the blue curtains to imply the protagonist was sad? Or were the curtains simply blue?” and “How do we know that this emphasis was significant? What if it’s an editor’s misplaced comma?” Even still, the realization that it might be the career path for me had not solidified.

After completing my Master’s, and contemplating whether or not to pursue my PhD, I decided to take a year off to work, travel, and relax. After a trip to Cuba, some more conservative day trips, a few weeks of catching up with friends, and saving up some money as a result of a thankfully very busy and diverse tutoring schedule, I found a job at a marketing agency. After four months of mostly assisting with event planning, I was granted the opportunity of a lifetime: the agency’s head of communications had just left, and their quarterly foreign direct investment magazine was in need of an associate editor. Before I knew it, I was copyediting, line editing, and working with the designer on catchy yet space-saving cover lines.

I was in heaven. I finally realized that what I wanted to do was work with words, and authors, and publications—but which? I decided I wanted more knowledge, and more training, and was introduced by a friend to the Book and Magazine publishing program at Centennial College by a friend. Given my indecision, and my desire for broader exposure, the prospect of a program that could prepare me for a career in both book publishing and magazine publishing thrilled me.

After the publishing program, I took an internship at a large educational publisher in the media department in order to get a taste of two more fields of publishing to which I’d had limited exposure—I wanted to sample all my options before choosing the perfect combination of publishing flavours.

I am now at the crux of beginning an editorial internship at a competitive literary magazine, and I couldn’t be happier. Only time will tell what the future holds, but I wouldn’t trade the diversity of my experience for anything in the world.

Working In Publishing is a publishing industry blog, curated to the Canadian publishing world


Changing Lanes: Envisioning safer cycling in our community

(Dandyhorse magazine’s dandyBLOG, April 2012)

There is a lot to take in on the streets of Danforth Avenue. Aside from a new menu item at that great Japanese restaurant or a growing bestseller list in a favourite bookstore, one might also notice an increase in something else: the number of cyclists on the road. Riders are entering the neighbourhood from Bloor Street across the Prince Edward Viaduct; others are setting out for a leisurely ride along the Don Valley trails. Our community is active, health conscious, and cycle-eager, and it makes one wonder: how would we benefit from bike lanes?

After discussing the issue with several knowledgeable sources, the staff at On the Danforth has cut through the misconception that bike lanes are a hassle for motorists and businesses, and uncovered three ways that bike lanes would benefit the community.

Bike lanes support local business
It is a common assumption that losing street parking will negatively affect local business. A study conducted by Clean Air Partnership, however, reveals that the majority of patrons of small businesses arrive by transit, bicycle, or on foot and found that non-drivers were more likely to spend more money in the area and visit more often.

Bike lanes ease road congestion
By keeping traffic moving, freeing up lanes previously blocked by parked cars, and encouraging city-dwellers to leave their cars at home during shorter trips, bike lanes can do a lot to ease traffic congestion.

As a member of the Danforth cycling collective Ward 29 Bikes, Val Dodge remarks that increased traffic congestion is largely the result of street parking. “On Danforth outside of rush hour, fully half of the traffic lanes are taken up by parked cars. Danforth already has more parking spots available to drivers than any similar commercial strip in the city of Toronto.”

“It’s a fallacy that bikes add to congestion woes,” says Tammy Thorne, Editor-in-Chief of the cycling magazine dandyhorse. “It’s well documented that cities with more cyclist commuters have less congestion.”

Dodge feels much the same way on this issue. “The simple answer is that bikes don’t cause congestion―cars do. You certainly can’t eliminate congestion by encouraging more people to drive.”

More cyclists on the road increases cyclist safety
Most cyclists feel safer when there are other cyclists on the streets with them, and there is documented truth to the matter. A report conducted in 2003 by researcher Peter Jacobsen identified a “safety in numbers” effect, which indicates that motorists adapt their behaviour and drive with increased awareness when there is a greater number of cyclists on the road.

Thorne says that “bike lanes make people feel safer―and that increases the number of cyclists on the road. There is safety in numbers. The more cyclists there are, the more motorists and policy makers take notice.”

A matter of planning
The drive to plan our city streets according to the needs of all those who share the roads is known as the “complete streets” approach, one that Thorne advocates, as well as Toronto-Danforth Councillor Mary Fragedakis.

Fragedakis explains how “complete streets” is a method of urban planning that keeps all citizens in mind. “A complete streets policy ensures that city planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind―including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

Fragedakis emphasizes that she did not vote in favour of the Mayor’s Bike Plan in July of 2011, as it included discarding the plans for the Bloor-Danforth bike lane corridor. “I felt that taken as a whole [the Mayor’s Bike Plan] would mean less cycling in Toronto and would decrease safety in comparison to the bike plan in existence at the time.” Fragedakis finds hope in the dedication and ingenuity of cycling enthusiasts in Ward 29 and across the city.

Dodge offers a confident view of the Danforth with bike lanes. “Congestion would ease for those who still choose to drive, businesses would see more visitors, patios would be busier, and street life would improve.”

Toronto cycling facts:

  • Cycling is on the rise in Toronto
  • Toronto has the highest number of bicycle accidents in the country
  • 25% of bike crashes involve a motor vehicle
  • Two of the most common types of cycling accidents are being sideswiped by cars and cyclists crashing into open vehicle doors
  • In Toronto there are 19,000+ cyclists in the downtown core on a typical weekday

By Vanessa Pinto and Lindsay Ulrich

DandyBLOG is Dandyhorse magazine’s blog on art and cycling in the city of Toronto