Moving Digital Health VR Lab

In the fifth episode of MindSea’s Moving Digital Health podcast, CEO Reuben Hall talks with Daniel Baldwin, the founder of Halifax VR and MARS VR Lab.

Daniel is an experienced software developer, project manager, and entrepreneur who fell hard for virtual reality (VR) technology. At Halifax VR, as Daniel spent thousands of hours guiding others through VR experiences, he realized how VR’s vast potential extends well beyond entertainment. He now brings his expertise to bear in pediatric rehabilitation: MARS VR Lab is currently leveraging VR technology to gamify the challenges of pediatric wheelchair training. Recently, Daniel handed off Halifax VR in order to devote more time to MARS.

As Daniel explains, learning to drive a motorized wheelchair is a demanding process: would-be wheelchair operators must develop a substantial set of skills and pass a rigorous test, often while contending with emotional challenges as well. This can be difficult not only for patients, but also for their families and the caregivers who help them through the process. Gamification allows for some welcome additions to the learning process, in the form of levity and enjoyment.

In this episode Daniel describes the journey of this idea from the brainstorm stage to fruition. The medical research trial process is new ground for Daniel and his co-founder, so he brings the fresh perspective of one who has recently navigated these waters. He details the key partnerships that the MARS crew have found pivotal to their success and illuminates the importance of having a champion in addition to the right team.  

The healthcare field is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies. Daniel shares his theory on the root causes of that resistance and why he thinks it’s justified, as well as his reasons for being optimistic about impending change. He and Reuben discuss the exciting new developments they’re each following and consider the future of digital health. 

Daniel’s passion for and commitment to his work are inspiring, and his perspective as a relative newcomer to the healthcare industry is eye-opening. We thank him for joining us to share his insight and his story, and we hope you’ll enjoy his episode of Moving Digital Health.

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Read Transcript:

Reuben (00:00.04)
Welcome to the MindSea podcast series Moving Digital Health. Our guest today is Daniel Baldwin, CEO of Mars VR Lab. Welcome, Daniel.

Daniel Baldwin (00:00.14)
Thanks for having me Reuben.

Reuben (00:00.17)
Maybe to start off, if you could just give us a bit of background and we can go from there.

Daniel Baldwin (00:00.22)
Sure. Professionally, I’m a project manager or was, though I still rely on those skills a lot. For being a CEO. I spent a lot of time in e-learning and enterprise software development before I decided to take a shot at being an entrepreneur myself. When going on a fun little adventure. I did everything from starting a retro arcade to establishing the Halifax Pinball League, which still is just super fun.

And along the way, I got introduced to virtual reality and it really bit me hard. Super intrigued by what it could be used for beyond entertainment. And so my co-founder of Mars VR Lab, Shawn Greene, we had opened up a previous business called Halifax VR, and this was just as the HTC Vive, which was one of the first commercial headsets were out, but the metaverse that didn’t exist and virtual reality kind of people just ignored it. 

And I guess it was not even close to being recognized by mainstream. And we thought it’d be cool just to open up a spot and chat to people about it and offer them to try it and see what they thought. And we had so many conversations about how it could be applied for real life challenges beyond entertainment and just a matter of circumstances.

We were introduced to some folks at the Iwk that were having some challenges and they thought VR could be an avenue to solve them. And hence Mars VR was born.

Reuben (00:02.07)
That’s really cool. So maybe you could tell us a little bit more about Mars VR lab.

Daniel Baldwin (00:02.13)
So we use gamification and technology to address real pediatric rehabilitation and diagnosis challenges, where a product based company and we’re currently working on the Mars VR XPod, which is a tool to allow clinicians to transition people into power wheelchairs. So like a power wheelchair is basically a motorized vehicle. Throw on a challenge like mobility challenges for someone who may use one of these devices and it comes really clear and important that the training and getting these patients comfortable with operating the vehicles is important.

And it’s hard to do that in an engaging way that I don’t want to say fun. Cause I don’t think there’s this really any fun way that you want to go about learning a power wheelchair per se, like that type of way. But you can make it more engaging and make it more enlightening and make it more emotional positive. And that’s what we’re focused on.

Reuben (00:03.31)
Amazing. So tell me about that moment when you really, like you said, like VR caught on to you and you really felt like there are so many possibilities here. Like, what was your experience that really kind of open your eyes?

Daniel Baldwin (00:03.46
This is awesome. I love this. Well, so glad you asked me this. It’s funny because co-founder Shawn, thanks to him, he’s the one that pushed me to enjoy it. So at the time I had started, I’d better set it up into the arcade business. And I soon realized people really don’t pay money to play games per se. And so when the idea of VR came up, it was sort of in that context, oh, we should rent it out and let people experience stuff like that.

And I was very adamant that people really aren’t into paying for that type of entertainment anymore. And it just seemed to have a really low ceiling to it. So on a Friday night, one in the morning, it took me to go over to a friend of his house that happened to have one of the developer, early release developer kits of HTC Vive System and be a good friend Shawn knows I’m a huge Trekkie, Star Wars sci fi future, anything like that, that type of content I love to death.

And I went over and unbeknownst to me that they had the set up and I jumped in and set this VR short game experience called Trials on Tatooine. And I basically got to be on a planet from Star Wars. Watch the Millennium Falcon land, use a light saber. Slice Stormtroopers and three, maybe three, even, maybe even less seconds into it, my knees started to shake and I was just like, totally on it. And I’m like, this is not what I was expecting. And it kind of got to eventually approach of like this. People that don’t like VR and people that have tried it in the sense of it’s hard to actually think of what the experience is going to be like and how really immersive it is.

So that night that was it. I was like, this is ridiculous. And I’ve seen this with every other person we’ve talked with along this adventure. Every time someone puts on the headset within 24 hours, I get an email or a message or a text this long from them with all these awesome ideas they have.

Is this possible? Is there this? Could we do this? Could we do that? And it’s just really inspires people when they try it, which is really fun. It makes it easy sale. So that was the moment that really locked it in for me. And from there, we the business Halifax. It was a number company, but we operated as Halifax VR. 

And it just reinforced that it could be a technology that could become mainstream. I kind of look at it like this. I think it’s funny, and I’ve lived this in my life, but the the lifecycle of the nerd like from the eighties to say now if you’re if you’ve been a life that long, it’s where it needs to be like a negative term and it meant someone, somebody was on a computer or used a computer in some way, right?

And there’s no Internet and you are a nerd. And it was a negative thing. Eventually, you know, we like get to the point where we all use the Internet, we all use computers. And the thought of calling someone a nerd because that doesn’t even exist anymore, like in any way, shape or form, almost to the point where the term nerd is almost has like a positive connotation to it now, it’s like a reward to call yourself a nerd. 

And I think VR is going to be one of those technologies that just slips into our lives unbeknownst and becomes a part of our everyday, how we how we have to live and how we want to live and how we want to do certain things. And that’s the excitement for me is I feel like I’m right in the middle and I can be a pioneer and an expert in enabling this to happen for when that moment happens where we all have a VR sound, like we all have a cell phone.

I remember a point in time in my life where people that texted you looked at them negatively, like, Why do you have a cell phone? There was know a phase in time there were cell phones weren’t necessarily cool or or like the main thing, you know and now imagine life without it won’t make any sense like that. And were going to go through that same term with VR.

Reuben (00:08.01)
Yeah. And so like, like you said, like VR has been around for a long time. What are some of the advancement and some improvements in the technology that have just made it a lot better over the last few years?

Daniel Baldwin (00:08.15)
I think the obvious one that you probably already could guess is just the advancement in technology means. Obviously things work better, faster, lighter, smaller, that type of thing. So if you look back at VR has been around probably since the seventies eighties, but the headset was a machine. You walked into that drew lines and say cool, but now you can take one out of a box almost like you would a toaster, and put your head out in your head and use it with no real technical background that you wouldn’t already have if you were a consumer of apps or a smartphone.

You know, if you’ve ever shopped online, you can put this on and use it. And I think that’s. Although we’re still not there with it, it’s not there enough that people are still that comfortable with it, where they trust it just to work out of the box. And yeah, that’s where it needs to go to integrate it into everyday life.

Reuben (00:09.14)
Cool. So what’s the headset you have there?

Daniel Baldwin (00:09.17)
This one here is the Oculus Quest two, which is the newest from Meta/Facebook. The one we currently use as part of the XPod product is the HTC Vive. And we just use that because it offers additional things you can track and integrate it to the system. And as part of the technical setup for the for the power wheelchair training solution is we need to be able to know the height of certain things so we can map it into the virtual world.

And that feels right to the to the to the client, because the crux of or the success of the XPod and any virtual reality program is it has to translate and feel like the real life counterpart experience that people want that realism, especially where we’re trying to take skills, teach them in a virtual environment and have them carry through so that they’re comfortable using an actual power wheelchair.

So there’s that sort of integration part and creating the realism which you need processing power to do it right. Like so with the HTC Vive system we use for our product, we have a PC in the background running it, whereas this (Oculus Quest two) more of a commercial entertainment device. You don’t need a PC, but then your processing power is limited to whatever size, graphics card and hard drive you can squeeze and yeah.

Reuben (00:10.53)
Yeah, it’s a one self-contained unit, right?

Daniel Baldwin (00:10.56)
Right. Yeah.

Reuben (00:11.00)
And so tell me about that mapping, like from the real world to the virtual world when you’re talking about the navigating a wheelchair, I assume that there’s the speed like how you know, how the touch of the joystick, like how much acceleration that gives you and you know, how do you actually, like, translate. So like you say, it is like as close to the real thing as possible.

Daniel Baldwin (00:11.27)
Very painfully right now. But honestly, it’s a combination of software and hardware. So I’ll just stick to the specific example of the XPod is we had to like invent an input system, right? That could mimic the joystick. Of a power wheelchair. And it’s actually a very unique joystick because there’s like a dead zone. There’s a spot where you push forward a bit, but then it clicks in and then you know you’re going to move these other things, right?

So we have to recreate that. So we actually have originally our prototype was a real power wheelchair arm that we fed it to an activity chair. So the person said in an activity chair, which are common chairs in like a rehabilitation type type center, they’ll sit in the chair and as part of that chair, we have a real wheelchair arm and there’s a fabricated 3D printed device that we add on that puts a tracker on top.

That then when the joystick is moved, it tracks the X-Y pitch and yaw coordinates of the controller. So that was good to prototyping and proving that we could recreate and capture the movement of a real system testing. You know, as we were done, we realized it’s not good enough because we want to take direct input from a power wheelchair on the exact thing.

So we, I don’t know if invented is the right word, but throughout using existing things, we produced a case to house the things that we need with a USB output that we can connect to the PC to power and capture the direct input from a real power wheelchair arm. So the fact that we have that controller built feels like it.

Then add on software side of physics engines, right? So power wheelchair, there’s front wheel drive, mid wheel drive, rear wheel drive, there’s outdoor setting, indoor settings, terrain settings, settings for weather. So that’s math right? A layer of math on top and then add in a lot of awesome sounds  like sounds like can solve a lot of problems with regards to getting realism and or trying to get that across.

We didn’t really appreciate that when we started, but went through some phases, you know, through the regular feedback and then trials of oh wow, add gravel sound, when you’re going over the gravel, besides changing the physics engine and getting a different control, and make it sound like you’re on gravel and now it feels a lot more like you’re on gravel, almost more so than if you had the physics with it, you know?

So it’s all combinations and tinkering that. and part of I had mentioned like Shawn and I had Halifax VR, it’s funny we really kind of use that together research in a way. I look back on it, I kind of think I’m an expert in and interacting and how people react to VR, how they receive it, how it affects the things they like, what works, what doesn’t work.

As I watched thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of adults, children and like a wide variety of different people do it and catalog this and remembered what worked and didn’t work. It really helped us when it was like, how do you just create a game to teach someone? Just like, where do you where do you start?

It’s not like like building a genuine piece of software. You’re in virtual reality, so it’s almost part movie. You have an entire scene and surroundings that are interactive. So like if you’re familiar with software development process and you do a spec docs, you would write endlessly to try to document how to do so. It’s like, so us coming at software people, we had a knowledge of what kids enjoy, what they like, what worked, how do we document that?

So then we can give it to programmers to develop. Then what we realize is it’s a blend of creating a script, like you say, for a film. Like a movie or a video game. Right? And mix in best practices from software development where it makes sense and it’s kind of fun. It’s sort of like, like hey, there’s kind of just invent a new sort of like arts position, like some sort of, like VR game media by training developer because we’ve got to be able to figure out what’s really fun.

So it’s like, yes, when you’re teaching someone something, you obviously start with a list of what are the learning objectives, right? So then then, you know, if you’re teaching properly and if they’re learning and you sort of check off. So our clinical partner, the IWK they provide us, here are the training guidelines that are used now that are sort of boiled down from two different standards. I forget the exact names that exist when you’re training people to transition to a power wheelchair.

So we go through that list and say, Can we recreate these in VR and how the heck are we going to do it right? You know, the child doesn’t know because all of this training is sort of developed on a there’s no negative feedback. This is not a negative experience in any way, shape or form. There’s no you’re doing it wrong. Do it again. 

It’s for the for the child. It’s exploratory. I always say, it’s like you’re tricking them into learning. They’re playing a game. But really they’re learning mobility skills. They’re building muscle memory. Think those types of things. So one of the simple was like one of the one of the criteria when they’re deciding if someone is competent to drive a chair is like drive straight for four meters in a straight line and reverse four meters in a straight line and say, okay, well, how can we that can we do that in a game sort of way that doesn’t feel like you’re doing a task or being taught or that you’re going to fail, that you want to do it for some other inherent reason, that’s engaging and fun and that’s where Shawn and I excel. 

I sound like I like bragging, but like we we really nailed that part. So we went to the clinicians. Like you go from proof of concept to say, Look, this could work. We built them a chair. That’s a little bit of functionality to, Hey, we think if we did this and design a game this way and had a person do this, this would encourage them to do these actions. You and there’s a list of 30 different skills and we had to go and create a game scenario dialog characters how is it all going to work and interact but at the same time provide the clinicians with the data that they need and provide the patients with the skills that they need.

So that was the part that I really, really, really enjoyed.

Reuben (00:18.32)
Yeah. So maybe like to describe that experience for the child. Like putting on the VR headset for the first time. And like you said, one of those first skills is just learning how to go backwards and forwards. And I know we don’t really have visuals, but maybe you could describe for us, you know, what they see and kind of what their experiences is.

Daniel Baldwin (00:18.53)
Absolutely. So the system is a little older set up here, but this is that rifton activity chair, which is common in a clinical setting. You see this ha I’m pointing like you can see. This is like a 3D thing that went through many iterations. Where we were trying to get a tracker on top to capture the movements of the joystick, and I just mentioned that now, that’s scrapped it’s a direct input system that’s all house together and it’s synced with the VR system, which is awesome. 

So the patient is seated there, they’re given a VR headset and then we have a character, Ada, who’s sort of like their guide, who’s kind of like a smart ass kind of cat looking robot, just something quirky that interacts with you as you’re going and may and if needed, may interact to get you to do something that we want you to do.

So they put that on and then the clinician has an output, whether a tablet or a TV, where they can control the camera in VR. So they can either be following along by looking through the patient’s eyes and seeing kind of what they’re seeing. Of course, they’re seeing it on a flat screen or they can free camera, put the camera above them, behind them, beside them and sort of watch them in there.

But they also have an overlay panel that’s spitting out real time data. So one of the really neat stats that we do is around concentration and are they looking where they’re driving and are they being distracted and how do they deal with being distracted with driving? Because you got to learn not to be driving when you’re distracted. So one of the neat things we can do is we can measure where they’re looking compared to the path that they’re going and provide that in a numerical sense to a question that makes sense that would be hard to observe manually, sort of like in the process that they do.

Reuben (00:20.45)
Just a question about that. So does the VR headset have like a sensor in it? So, you know, the direction that the user is looking in, like it kind of like tracks eyes.

Daniel Baldwin (00:20.56)
Yeah it knows. It’s 60 immersive, I guess. So whenever you look, it’s like you’re in, you’re transported into the world no matter where, they never move in the real world and then they start driving, you know, and then it’s the virtual experience of driving. But everything it. if you haven’t tried VR before, it feels like you’re somewhere else.

It felt like I was in Star Wars like you feel like you’re in another planet. You’re out out of the hospital. And we had it again Shawn and I watched tens of thousands of hours of kids or young people in virtual reality. And we saw what made them laugh, what they like, what games they always wanted to play over and over and over.

And we subtracted from that right to build that environment. I know part of that. I mean when I say we, team build like, so we have an awesome modeler animator Mitchell who writes like for one character he’ll write this much backstory for the character. And it’s like why, but it, so defines, because you need that because how does the character interact with the world?

And so the idea is then you have the right people that really like building this sort of stuff and are passionate. I mean, it’s really hard not to be passionate about working on something as emotional as this, and that’s helping children. So it you know, that’s not a challenge for us to find people that are genuinely keen to help and contribute and go above and beyond, you know, the designs and stuff like that.

So yeah, so part of all that and then we just build activities into the actual, the game. So the simple one for the, the driving forward and straight. So what we’ve done is so it loads the patient, the client knows, they can tell you know they look around your in a, we call it a travel pod or XPod. And you know the arm and the control system that’s out in the real world, it’s mapped and shown to them as a graphic right in the virtual world.

So when they reach out to touch it, it feels like there. Right. And it’s overlays over top so that they’re in the chair, but they are maps to the arm. So they it’s replicating that system. And then what happens is, as you drive, it’s really obvious that there’s a meter that’s decreasing as you drive it. It’s just really obvious. 

But throughout that particular level there are yellow lemons and as you drive over a yellow lemon, you notice the yellow bar seems to increase. And then eventually after playing because it’s all free, like there’s no do what you want to do, you’re like why can I move? Why can’t I move? Oh, you have to drive over lemons to get energy to keep the XPod.

So now I have a reason to look for the lemons. So now you want them to drive in a figure eight? Well, let’s put some lemons out there. But it’s kind of a puzzle. And the only way you can unlock the lemons is if you drive in a particular pattern, right? And just and then it’s just again, I couldn’t write a book on how to do it.

But in the moment we think of these things, right? This could work. This could work. Could we? How hard is that to program, you know, that evaluation of it and that and then just try it. Right. And we’re in the phase now where like we’re in a clinical research trials like this is where does it work?

If it doesn’t, then we get feedback that, you know, we have this other really fun. We think it’s going to be fun where you end up, you’re kind of bowling and there’s this like. To you in there there’s these robots kind of fun, like goofy robots, but they’re kind of transformed down into like balls and you realize you can interact with them and push them around.

And then, oh, you look down and there’s almost like a bowling alley down a huge canyon, and there’s like a bunch of other robots and stuff, and you realize you can push the ball straight and push it over the edge and look out and make a huge explosion or any realized you’re trapped. And the only way to get out is you have to back up in a straight line to get out, right?

That’s it. Right now you want to play bowling many times, but you’re going to keep reversing for meters, you know, like that sort of thing. But again, it’s just like I said, it’s I couldn’t say particularly how we do it. It’s just there.

Reuben (00:25.17)
Yeah it’s just Iteration and trial.

Daniel Baldwin (00:25.20)
I credit a lot of it, too, because when Shawn and I started the other business, we were very hands on with it because we knew that wasn’t what we wanted to do. Our plan was let’s talk to people about it. Let’s meet people. Let’s blow people’s minds away with this type of thing and see what comes of it.

And we talked like,  a lot of the experience in Halifax VR like what we used to kind of find the project we wanted to want to work on. Like we both came, we both work professionally with both decided we want to be entrepreneurs and we both decided we’re going to work on something that matters and is meaningful and that you’ll love getting up to go do that and were stubborn and until we got what we wanted.

But we had talked to like a lot of different industries, like potential huge projects for like oil and gas mapping and like training, that sort of thing. But again, through Halifax VR with we met up with Dr. Jordan Sheriko and occupational therapist Scott Thieu from the IWK and was like this is meaningful this is what this is what I want to do and here we are.

Reuben (00:26.34)
Yeah, that’s one of the great things about working in the health and wellness field is a lot of the people you interact with and come across genuinely care about people and you know, helping them, you know, live healthy lives. And that’s a really rewarding experience and generally amazing people to their work.

Daniel Baldwin (00:26.54)
I agree 1,000%, like I haven’t met one person in all of my interaction with like clinical teams, and staff of people that at the base level just want to help people and they really mean it. I hadn’t met anyone that’s calling it in and just doing it as a job or a career. It’s kinda similar probably with teachers.

It’s like you really got to love and have passion for that. To put a career in that because it’s so emotional, I can’t really speak to it as I’ve done it. But, you know, part of the reason why they had a process to solve this problem is because it’s so emotional challenging to do this training in the transition, not only obviously the families and the patients and but the caregivers.

Like it’s very emotional. It weighs very heavy on people day after day after day. And it’s like you can find a way to dress a little bit of everyone’s everyone’s emotional distress around this. And that’s really good. It’s really good.

Reuben (00:27.51)
Yeah, lots I want to dig into there. But like you said, like with the emotional aspect, like hours of training. So how long does the or how many hours of training does someone usually have to do before they really are able to navigate a chair on their own?

Daniel Baldwin (00:28.09)
I mean, I’m not qualified to answer that directly, but I have talked with people that do that. So just a little caveat that I might not be 100% accurate, as I’m not a doctor. And besides working with clinical teams and enterprises, I haven’t worked in one per se, but it varies from patient to patient depending on their physical abilities. But it could take hundreds of hours.

Hundreds of hours. Yeah. And so what’s really neat as part of this experience, we got to go and see how it’s done. Now. And there’s a building downtown. I forget which building it is in, but it recreates a lot of it’s indoors but there’s a street, there’s a sidewalk that’s under construction that there’s a gravel one section, there’s a ramp that you would see coming to the door.

There’s recreations of different doors and accessibility buttons and things like that. And it’s huge for that to recreate like all the stuff and they go in with people with seal pens and, and pads and, and go through and it can take out to clinicians or three clinicians per patient sometimes that type of thing. And the other layer to that is different people have different abilities, right?

So what I might do to push forward and it might be as hard as I can push for it is different than how you push forward, and a wheelchair has to know that you’re pushing all the way forward to your ability. So there’s a process that goes through, say, from someone who is a manufacturer, a provider of the equipment. There’s a huge curve just to dial in the control systems that matches the ability of the driver.

So that makes it that, you know, training wise, that just complicates it where you just can’t use a generic system, you know what I mean? Like, it’s something that’s very, very, very individual. And because it has to be, there’s no other way to do it. So, and what we’re hoping is that what we will be doing is we can solve some of those problems.

We can calibrate the real life wheelchair, but we’re capturing their ability when they’re using our joystick. It’s part of the process to calibrate it for them. So we could get our joystick to talk to the real power of wheelchair. Now we could save a month process of dialing in and figure out how to configure the real loved chair for them.

So it’s also a little cool things like that, you know? So I’ve been popping up of, well, wow, that’s that. We’re trying to teach people how to a drive a power wheelchair. There’s a lot of other like one offs where it’s like, Oh, wow, that could really help this part of the process. This is really how this part of the process that we just didn’t know and that we’re part of the core research that we were trying to do. We’re just trying to prove we could transfer skills from a virtual world to a real world. And that’s what we’re trying to prove.

Reuben (00:31.27)
Yeah, I wanted to ask about the clinical trial because it’s a big step from…

Daniel Baldwin (00:31.32)
Sorry I just wanted to Clarify, Sorry, it’s clinical research trials. There’s a difference between a clinical trial and clinical research trials where clinical trials would be next, and a research trial is a smaller, smaller sample. And it may have may involve. So our clinical research trials involves clinicians that are in the field. Current pediatric wheelchair users would be the second phase, and third phase will be new pediatric wheelchair users.

And this whole process again is at the end of the clinical research trials. Will be able to say yes to transfer skills. Yes, it seems to transfer skills. Then like say for the research trials, you need a lot of a broader base of data to be able to say we’ve clinically proven that this works, that we a data set right, that that shows it.

So I just went through that. It was just as important. I want to mislead it because it could make people think a little bit further. Right. But that’s where we are.

Reuben (00:32.34)
No, thank you for the distinction because I wanted to dig into the process because it’s a big step going from that informal feedback and iteration to the clinical research trial. Maybe you could tell me more about, you know, navigating that process and exactly how the research trial is working.

Daniel Baldwin (00:32.54)
Yeah. absolutely, so we have like Dr. Sheriko, he’s our, I don’t know if is the right term, like our main principle. So this is his project right where he is the doctor, he is the expert in pediatrics and rehabilitation and children. He has the experience of where the gaps are and what’s needed, where the technology side that can help him that he doesn’t have inside the hospital.

So it starts where with you needs the champion. You need the champion that is willing to invest the time because this person is already a doctor. Right. This is like quite honestly, like he works with us 11:00 at night, Sundays, six in the morning. But that’s the type of person that works in this, because they’re emotionally invested, too.

So you have to have that principle. And so for us, it got to like we had to get to the point where Dr. Sheriko thought it would be worth to put it into a clinical setting and figure out a way just to get more data to say, Yeah, that’s like it looks like it’s, it’s working like some clinic luminary results.

So then what happens is and I don’t know, it probably changes from institution to institution, but they do a lot of research, clinical trials, both trials as part of what they do with the IWK. And there’s an internal process where you sort of apply for space and time to be involved. And if you get approved, then you get a research coordinator, and this is someone, for some reason they all seem to come from Dal.

But you know, someone come in and they’ll create what is called the research protocols. So this is like they’re kind of like their definition doc. or they’re designed doc. how it’s going to be run, how they’re going to prove it’s impartial, and that we’re not influencing results because it’s tricky. We’re obviously a business, they’re a nonprofit entity and you have to ethically mix it so that we’re not because there’s obvious, I mean, obvious things that we would want results to be right?

Reuben (00:35.01)
Yeah, obviously you want the clinical research trials to go well.

Daniel Baldwin (00:35.03)
But we can also go, well, one of our top priorities is we’re very strict and we’re just like, IWK, is this fantastic partner, because the legal counsel for this project are very honest about like drawing the lines on what we can be involved in and see and contribute. We obviously want to be enabled to tweak. Honestly I’m not trying to cheat, like I’m trying to try to do something that means something here.

We’re not trying to some type of scam. But we’re always like, What could we help do? We would provide gift cards to help you in recruiting people, or could we do things that are just like everywhere comes out? No, no, no. Don’t tarnish don’t tarnish this.

Reuben (00:35.45)
Yeah. Don’t do anything that even like optically might look bad.

Daniel Baldwin (00:35.48)
Exactly. Yeah. So we decided, you know what? You’re right. We’ve gotten hyper vigilant about it of now. I mean, I don’t want anyone to be able to say, oh, you’re bullshit in this other work. Like, you know what I mean? Like, that’s. That’s not how I am doing. This is not why so. So you get your research coordinator and then a with your main principle.

So in this case Dr. Sheriko and they create the research protocols, how they’re going to run the study, what is it going to be? What is it going to prove? What are we gonna do? In our case, it was decided they wanted to get, we’re not in clinical trials. They want us to start with clinicians and their peers and let them try first to get their input, what they thought about it.

Right. So that’s it. That’s for us. That’s our first phase, is just clinicians that work with pediatric patients. Then we’ll get a round of feedback from them and we’ll jointly go through and what makes sense.

Reuben (00:36.49)
Yeah, a lot of different perspectives.

Daniel Baldwin (00:36.52)
So we’ll go through a cycle with them and come to an agreement. Yeah, we’re going to do this and then we’ll make those changes, we’ll release the next build for phase two and, Phase two, the current power wheelchair users, and then from the protocols that have been distilled, they’ll get them to do certain things and I haven’t seen the research protocol because I don’t want to see it because I don’t want to influence it, I’m guessing at this point, but there’ll be a process to get feedback from them that will come back to us. That may be to help improve it. Right. 

Like this didn’t feel real or that didn’t feel real or, you know, those type of things that we could take and refine that realism that we said that’s the main thing. The skills has got to transfer and we know that’s based on replicating the real life counterparts. And then when we have that feedback and we integrate that feedback, then we come back with a build that’s for a new, So someone who, this will be the first person there to try to be trained this way and see and what those results are. And that’s the from a business point of view, commercial standpoint, that’s the data we need. Right. Because that’s when you can start saying hey parliamentary results looking good, you know.

That helps you the whole way fundraising set up your your sales funnel, all that sort of stuff, and that’s it. And at this point we’re positive we’re doing this. When you do a scientific study, you state what you expect. You’re hoping what you expect the results to be. We think we know and there’s certain things like in the training protocol in the real life that we know we can’t do in VR.

And like one of them is so when you drive a power wheelchair you have to be able to move your weight on your on your buttocks and shift your weight and certain ways, we can’t do that. It’s not feasible to do from where we are at. So if we can do all but one, one of the things that could be good. We expect what we’ve done, to get, but we know we’re not gonna do 1000, so we’ll see.

And they’re testing you but we’ve provided for we call it MVP, but it’s more than that because with COVID we supposed to start, you know, this time just to start here. So what we did is during the delays, we just kept moving forward and making the build even better. So instead of just testing nine of the 25 skills, we’re giving them all to you here, that’s all for us because we had it all scripted out there.

They’re part of that process. So we just provided a better version, right? So now our confidence is even better or higher, that it’s going to be good.

Reuben (00:39.46)
Yeah, like in addition to, you know, this project, in this experience, do you have other projects on the go for, you know, other situations.

00;39;59;13 – 00;40;21;19

Daniel Baldwin

Yeah absolutely. So fun too. I’ve just been really working on in the last two weeks with Daphne, who’s our director of our project management offices, defining our product roadmap. Like what? What is high level? What has to happen from the germination of the idea to where we think we have something that’s ready to be commercialized.

And one thing that we’ve learned is you don’t make medical products by having two business people in a room throwing ideas back and forth. It’s let’s build this, let’s build that. I mean, there are people that probably do it. Go do it, do it if that’s what you want to do, that’s not how you do it.

You base your research and your based data. And so what we have on the go now, we’re working on the framework of a research project that will coordinate with Dr. Sheriko that will help identify other gaps. And they may not have a virtual reality solution, but that’s okay. That’s okay. That would be challenges for other industries, other other companies.

But we know there will be some that maybe we can address with virtual reality. And it’s like, well, if you’re going to be using VR for power wheelchair training, you already have all the equipment that you need to do product X or whatever the next thing is. So we have a list of 8 things that we’re looking at.

But again, you need champions, You need, and Dr. Sheriko can only provide so much to us because it jobs is priority you know like, so you got to find similar people with interests that are interested in the tech that are going to carry through for commercialization. Right. So the other thing we have going on, which is really important to us is this and it’s called Camp Triumph.

And this is a camp that was founded by Dr. Sheriko, and it’s a camp for able bodied children that grow up in families with people with disabilities. And it’s kind of a group of people that get forgotten about because their life is changed a lot. Like, you know, because just they say having a brother or siblings type thing, it’s then the family’s life revolves around one person that’s the priority now and this is the camp where these kids can go and escape that and enjoy 100% free.

So we started a fundraising project. We’re going to do like a walk, like a charity walk, that sort of thing. We hired a person responsible directly for organizing and planning it and executing it for us so that we can fund as many kids as possible to go in. So that’s our second priority right now. Beyond that, the XPod product and getting to commercialization.

Reuben (00:43.01)
Yeah, that’s awesome. So just to switch gears a little bit, you mentioned, you know, Facebook and the Metaverse before. So I’m interested in, you know, is there any tie in to what you’re doing or do you see like a future of what you’re doing, really connecting with that?

Daniel Baldwin (00:43.24)
Yeah. This is so it’s less about Metaverse oh what is this term, but really it’s just your gateway to the virtual world. It’s like your to Google search screen basically it’s the entry into the virtual world so we’re already building for it we’re building a training solution that someone potentially could just do from home.

They go to internet like we would do today to book an appointment to go to the IWK. But they throw on their headsets, they go to their Metaverse lobby or presence. They look at what the services are available in the Metaverse. They pick power wheelchair training. And again, this is obviously not in two weeks, right. But they’ll say three years, four years, five years.

They had to set up at home that they need to put on their headset, say, even with the specific things like, oh, you need a particular controller to work, this thing, it will be shipped to you. So they get their thing, they pick their services and they do them in this virtual world. And I see I personally, for me, the metaverse is going to be like live events and live sports.

Again we’re a company we’re not focused on entertainment. This is me, like my personal interests. And what I want to do is there is going to be a time in my lifetime. I’m a huge Blue Jays fan. I love sports, I love the Jays, I love baseball and everything about baseball, but I’m going to be able to put this headset on and I’ll be able to buy my ticket to the game.

And I want to be able to stand behind home plate of a live game and watch it and be able to walk around the field, and I’m going to be able to say now I want it to feel like a stadium experience and I’m just going to buy my ticket and commercialize this easy. Like if you were a sports team owner, would you want the option to have 2 billion people like your game or you want it limited to the 10,000 stadium?

And I invite you, Hey, you want to watch Jays game with me because you’re in my friends list in my Metaverse, right? You come and we decide Oh yeah let’s go to hang on the field or no let’s pretend we’re sitting in the bleachers beside each other with a real stadium Sound voice. Everything is happening in real time.

We’re not far from that. And today, like, I would spend $1,000 per game to be able to experience that. But then it’s like, okay, that’s easy to do. Say for an entertainment, you know, you get the right resolution, I’m sure there will be bugs but whatever, it would be friggin awesome, and say, 2ell, what are other things in life that would be awesome that you didn’t have to get out of the house?

And I think if anything positive came of COVID, I would say it’s positive. Something that came out of COVID is I really think it, pushed and fast track people’s willingness to live in a virtual world. And right now, today, the Metaverse is Zoom and what we’re doing. I think before COVID, would anyone ever recorded a podcast over Zoom ever?

Reuben (00:46.25)
It certainly wouldn’t have crossed my mind.

Daniel Baldwin (00:46.27)
Right? No, never. But now it’s and people are willing to do that. So it’s like, what else? We’re willing to order our food through Uber without seeing you. Right. And places like McDonald’s have bought digital land and virtual worlds, and they’re setting up a virtual McDonald’s that you could go in and buy NFT, but you can order food from it and it will deliver to you where you are in the real world, the order, wherever it is, without you having to pick where you are and that sort of thing.

So it’s like, Wow, that’s kind of cool. That’s kind of neat. And what else could it be? And it’s funny because Shawn and I were just having a really, really good conversation about this. It’s like, Well, what’s the hold up for health care? Because we kind of know it’s like, like trends in health, like trends with technology and stuff like that.

It seems like besides government, we’re always slow, but health care seems to be a field that is really resistant to adopting new tech, right? And were like, Why? Like why is that? And this a question for us that we have to answer because we want people to have the option to have certain health care options from home in a virtual setting because there are tons of them that could be done simultaneously, you know, and that could make other like it just make us progressively better if we can self-serve people and that sort of thing. 

And it kind of came down to two. Well, from the hospital’s point of view is like everyone’s overworked over emotionally worked. They’re invested in and we’ve probably all experienced like when you know how to do something. And someone wants to get you to do it a different way. But you get 1000 of them to do the last thing you want to do is fall 2000 behind to learn a new way and go to do it. 

You’ve got patients or, you know, whatever it may be. You don’t. And I would say in any other industry, I would say that’s a B.S. excuse me. Like if people are as resistant to check out and I work at tons of places for people I can’t switch to, to, to Google, you know, to Google like are you crazy.

Yeah, but in that case I can just see that where it’s like, no, because you’re really there’s really affects there, affects in their in their workload which is affects on real humans and the health of humans. And I think from a consumer side is to me is health care is a very personal thing.

It’s very intimate thing. Like, you know, trust the practitioner like there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of stuff. When an everyday person trust that a virtual visit diagnosis is as good as a in-person one, when we all know that an eyewitness compared to a camera camera is way more reliable, consistent or better. But people will get convicted from an eyewitness that we’ve proven or not reliable, that type of thing.

And that’s kind of a hard that’s got to be both of those, but from both sides. So a hard bridge to Gap. And how do we do that? How do we make sure other entities that are trying to introduce these technologies are aware of that and we’re working collectively on those challenges? Right. I think there’s a lot of what kind of obvious answers that, first of all, like how you do training and how you implement new things, how intuitive you make things to work like, I like to use an example of an iPhone, like you can give it to a five year old or an 85 year old, and they’ll figure it out because it’s it’s it’s not the hardware. It’s it’s the intuitive. And they’ve really put so much thought into like how people will interact and what they try to do. And you’ve got to be hypervigilant about that as well. You know.

Reuben (00:50.15)
Yeah, but like you said, even even a new tool that’s really intuitive and easy to learn, there’s still that barrier of, you know, trying it and, you know, just being willing to accept that there’s a, you know, a different way or methodology here.

Daniel Baldwin (00:50.35)
I feel like that’s probably my, I feel like you’re younger than me. I don’t know how old are you, you look younger then me. I’m in my mid Forties and I feel my generation is probably the last of the majority of, because right now this age is probably still majority people resistance to technology. But I feel like our kids’ kids have lived with it always changing like, you know, especially these kids with smartphones, do you know what I mean, they’ve gone from like all of a sudden Facebook’s not cool, you know what I mean?

They start they’re blowing through it. They eat it up, like in two years you’ll be a nerd if you’re using TikTok like, Oh, you still use that, You know, like they just and there’s going to be a generation that comes that’s been influenced from COVID, you know, and all these things and finding new ways and different ways to interact that are just going to embrace it naturally.

Like it it won’t be as hard to sell. But the problem is you can only as fast as. You can’t leave people behind with that. Something as crucial as health care. You can’t leave people behind. You have to go as slow as the slowest person. That’s just a human side of it, right? You have to.

Reuben (00:51.49)
Yeah. And it is always going to be a hybrid approach. And like, you know, technology never replaces the, you know, the doctor in the room or, you know, it’s just another tool in their toolbox to deliver care to more people, hopefully, and to more, more efficiently. And so it’s more accessible for everyone.

Daniel Baldwin (00:52.16)
Yeah, there’s a company right now that’s working on a scanning system that can, of course, are using celebrities to get on sports people and stuff right now that can scan you so detailed in theory a doctor could diagnose things on the inside of you inside the Metaverse.

00;52;42;21 – 00;52;50;25

Reuben (00:52.42)

So yeah the idea of like the digital twin, the doctor using the doctor basically can cut open the digital twin without cutting you open to look what’s going on.

Daniel Baldwin (00:52.50)
Exactly right, now that that’s a game changer that just becomes you only get your health card and oh gosh despite, I don’t want to get into political conversation, I mean about your you know your data, and goes right to your body, you know those type of things. We all layer of complication there. But to ignore all that and just take up the option of instead of going to the doctor, you send your virtual self in and you can get 99% of that results.

That’s crazy. That’s why I think that’s like a science fiction movie or something like that. My brain has a hard time accepting it, but it’s so, so wild.

Reuben (00:53.32)
Yeah. And it also kind of brings up another weird situation where if, if you can be scanned in so much detail that you have a digital twin that contains almost all the information that it takes to make, you can then you know, is that like immortality, right? Because then you’re like, you know, I’ve been can in the future can you be remade?

And it’s like, oh, it’s like a copy of you and you can be rebuilt at some point. It’s just, it’s really been kind of, you know, ways and you can take that all the way to the end screenwriting.

Daniel Baldwin (00:54.16)
My wife and I, it’s totally off topic, but super related to what you said, but I can’t remember what the show was that we were watching, but it was something about now. If I got you before you died, you could go on and exist in some digital world still with your name, same consciousness or whatever.

And we just had this just some silly conversation about cause I’m in VR, but that was like baby, would you ever want like, Hey, you want me to create like a avatar, scan myself and get you a VR thing? So in case I ever die, would you know, want that’s something you could interact with in a limited way. Her reaction was horror. No! 

Like no, that would be an abomination. So I just like what you’re talking about, having that, you know, could you exist forever in there? You know that of thing? I just I would be, I’d be really keen to hear the different types of reactions people would ever have to that, you know.

Reuben (00:55.13)
And I think there would be definitely different perspectives on that because even right now there’s, you know, people who have their pets cloned. So you know when their pet passes away, then there’s a new pet that’s exactly the same to the pet. The kids is like, hey, don’t worry about Lassie. You’ve got another one right here.

And to me, that’s like, oh, it’s a little bit weird. Like, you know, the the circle of life, like, is just part of living in part of life lessons. But, you know, in the digital realm, if you had that pet existing in Metaverse, then maybe that would be kind of cool.

And playing with the pet you grew up with, even though they’re not there anywhere. All kinds of things like that. It’s not just about creating an artificial world, it’s translating some of those things in the real world and keeping them around. It’s like another place to store your memories.

Daniel Baldwin (00:56.16)
Yeah, we always it’s funny, we have we’re younger people, like some pretty committed gamers and stuff in our in our mixer office here. And a couple of them have had a big time understanding NFT and, and like, why would anyone want it? And that is a joke because these are the same like the same group of people that go and spend like 3.99 and a micro-transactions in whatever game they’re playing to buy an outfit for their character that they’re controlling on screen.

To not realize it. They just pretty much bought an NFT, except they don’t own it. And when they leave that game, they can’t put the outfit on the next character from a different game. And you should be able to, you, I mean, or you should be able to use it whenever you want in any way, shape or form. And these are people that are technical. So that’s I got to have this hunch, you know, like the Metaverse is going to be kind of at home. I hard sell you know for especially for stuff that’s super personal like, you know, like health care.

Reuben (00:57.24)
So you talked about your experience at Halifax VR and just seen so many people try out for the first time and their reactions, you know, what would you suggest for someone who has never tried it before? You know, what’s a good kind of introductory experience to see what it’s like.

Daniel Baldwin (00:57.43)
I love doing this. I did this for three years for people because this is exactly what it would be like, people would show up. They have no idea what they’re doing and they’re just something You can give them some advice. But honestly I would say go with something that you generally are interested in that you thought you’d never get to experience.

So for me, I’ve been to the International Space Station, I’ve repaired something on the space station and did a spacewalk. I climbed Mount Everest. I was Batman and I walked a plank off a building and conquered a fear of heights that weirdly transferred to real life. But it starts that excites you and do it with someone that has some experience with it that can make a recommendation, right? 

Because it’s like watching a movie. It’s like you love movies. But if you watch a movie you don’t like, you don’t stop watching all movies. In VR, it’s like that. So you try an experience, you’re like ah, I didn’t like that. Just watch another movie, right? There’s another one that’s going to get you that you’re going to like.

We had some like really, we had Halifax, VR. We had so many tear jerking moments where I like it. We didn’t see on the radar where, I’ll never forget we had a lady come in with her elderly mother who was terminally ill and always wanted to go to Australia and out of desperation reached out and said, Could you do something for us?

Google Earth is in VR. You can go anywhere in the world and go down to street level and teleport. Some places you can get into museums, but anything that’s like, you know, a go to landmark and stuff, you can right there and almost feel like you’re there. Right? And there’s other specific travel things specific to sites. She brought her mother and we put the headset on and we had to do the kind of controls for and whatnot.

And we took her a trip through Australia and there wasn’t a dry eye in this place. It was just, blew my mind. It was just like, wow, right? And it’s like how could I not believe in VR, when I seen that happen. Like, you know, I experienced that moment where someone felt they. She lived in the Metaverse.

She got to Australia and it’s just, I’ll never forget it. It was so satisfying, like to feel it. You know, I didn’t create Google Earth. I didn’t create the HTC Vive. I do any of it, except provide a spot and act as a chaperon, you know, that type of thing. It wreaked us, it wreaked Shawn and I.

Yeah, to be honest. I can’t even talk about it. I don’t know, I started to tear up. It’s was like, Wow. And let’s recreate that with what we do, and we’re going to have to have a thousand of those moments. Hopefully, if we can find the right solutions to the problems. Right? So, that’s our high. I think it’s going to be good.

Reuben (01:00.40)
Well It’s really inspiring. And there seems like there’s so much potential for new applications for VR in health care. So I really appreciate you chatting with me today. Certainly a fun conversation and definitely hope to catch up again.

Daniel Baldwin (01:01.02)
Yeah I know, stop by the office sometime in and we’ll turn you into Batman and we’ll give you a good tour through some really fun. VR.

Reuben (01:01.10)
I’ll take you up on that. I’ll bring the kids too.

Daniel Baldwin (01:01.12)
Awesome I love, I love, I love being an ambassador. I love being an ambassador for the technology. I love it. I love it.

Reuben (01:01.18)
Yeah. So if you like this episode, please subscribe to the monthly newsletter and you’ll be notified about future episodes. Thanks a lot, Daniel, So much for joining us today and we’ll catch you around.

Daniel Baldwin
Thanks Reuben.

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