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How AR is helping keep ventilators running during the coronavirus pandemic

As medical equipment technicians face quarantine or travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis, they are turning to augmented reality to keep systems working from afar.

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The rapid spread of the coronavirus has caused significant shortage of necessary medical equipment, including testing kits, masks, and ventilators. The crisis is forcing people to get creative, such as 3D printing materials when necessary. One company is even bringing augmented reality (AR) into the mix. 

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While many manufacturers are searching for ways to create more systems and materials, TechSee is using AR to keep current systems functioning. 

"Medical technicians are very limited and basically considered precious human resources these days. These are the experts. Companies cannot afford to send them to hospitals and put them under risk [of infection]," said Liad Churchill, vice president of marketing at TechSee. 

"Companies have to ensure their staff's maximum safety, but on the other hand someone needs to support these machines," Churchill said. 

The Salesforce-backed startup is using the AR to facilitate virtual assistance, working pro bono with hospitals, healthcare providers, and medical equipment producers to keep necessary systems up and running during the COVID-19 crisis. 

How remote technicians use AR 

"Unlike regular times when you could dispatch a technician to hospitals, or you could actually show the doctors how to operate equipment, fix it, and so on, they need to do it remotely," Churchill said. "So we combined them with video and AR."

Once TechSee receives an inquiry, it is given to a technician and the technician sends a web link via SMS to a hospital staff member. This allows the hospital support person to use their smartphone camera or tablet camera to show the technician the issue, Churchill noted. 
The user shows the technician the problem, and then the technician diagnoses the issue and uses AR to visually guide the hospital employee to a resolution, he added.  

Churchill said that TechSee works with more than 100 enterprises in a variety of sectors, with Medtechnica being one of its biggest clients in healthcare. While TechSee's solution can be applied to any system--including X-rays, routers, smart thermostats, and more--the demand for ventilators is amplifying that use case.  

This solution is completely web-based, so the user isn't forced to download an app. The AI-powered platform can recognize devices and technical issues, as well as automate the support process, Churchill said. 

Possible challenges 

The system is very easy to use, which makes operational challenges few and far between, according to Churchill. 

"The challenge is in shifting the mindset. Instead of calling someone and asking them, 'Tell me what you see." Now you actually tell them, 'Show me what you see,'" Churchill said. 

"In the case of technicians, these are field technicians. Their whole lives they are dispatched and operating in the field, and suddenly they need to work from home," Churchill said. "It's about the habits and the new mindset of, 'Show me what you see and let me guide you visually how to fix it yourself.'"

The solution allows technicians to work from home and maintain social distancing requirements, while also keeping vital systems operating, Churchill added. 

For more, check out Technologists and healthcare workers team up for coronavirus response hackathon on TechRepublic.

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Image: Medtechnica
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