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Engineering students are helping to build Hartford Hospital’s first virtual reality training application

Posted 02/27/2017
Posted by Rose Brodeur

What if, in the future, medical students and medical teams were able to virtually touch and manipulate objects in order to generate a greater understanding of how to use them? Well, that future is soon to be now and two students in the University’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture (CETA) are helping to make it happen. Biomedical engineering major Thienly Nguyen ’18 and computer engineering major Wilmer Elguera ’17 are interning at Hartford Hospital’s Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation (CESI), a training facility that is developing its first virtual reality training application.

CESI already instructs over 12,000 individuals each year through simulations. The virtual reality application will further enhance a safe and realistic learning environment for medical professionals. “We’re changing the way medical professionals are trained by allowing lifesaving procedures to be practiced risk-free,” says Wilmer, who is using his computer coding skills to develop a virtual world. Trainees will use a headset and two hand controllers to “travel” inside a room-scale virtual reality environment where they can practice assessing and treating virtual patients.

Thienly uses 3D software to help design virtual elements like stethoscopes, syringes, blood pressure cuffs, IV pumps, and defibrillators. “Biomedical engineering applies engineering principles to medicine, so I was looking forward to bringing my knowledge of medical devices to the project.” Once the items look like their real life counterparts, Wilmer uses code to add animation and sound.

CESI Simulation Technology Developer Christopher Madison, who oversees the interns’ work, says they are developing the technology in phases. “The students have been focused on Phases I and II, building assets and assembling the real-world environment. The final phase will include building a control system so instructors can alter various aspects of the environment like patient vitals and symptoms, speech, and equipment malfunctions.”

“The work is challenging and complex, but I know this project will continue to push me further and increase my arsenal of technical skills,” says Wilmer. As a result of the internship, Thienly intends to focus on hospital training centers as a possible career path. “I like the idea of imparting my engineering knowledge to other people in a learning environment.”