Virtual Reality delivers antidote to isolation
The Patience Project was created in 2018 to honour a commitment made by the Martel family to Liam, their son and brother who, before his death in December 2016, aged 16, asked his family to “spend some time trying to make the lives of teenagers who are diagnosed with a long-term illness easier”.
Fighting long-term illness is doubly tough for a young person, whose condition can also rule out formative social events, school, and other activities most teenagers take for granted. But if there’s one thing society’s embrace of social media and web-enabled devices demonstrates, it is the almost limitless potential of digital networks to break down social barriers and help people stay connected.
Building on this idea using virtual reality and live streaming, not-for-profit entity; Patience Project is changing the game for chronically sick young people excluded through circumstance, giving them a virtual seat wherever they choose to be, to help them feel included. To do this, participants use virtual reality headsets to view live video of their chosen environments streamed from a 360° video camera on site.
More than using them to join in on social engagements or hangout, teenagers have used the service to participate in live stream classes, like chemistry, to gain NCEA credits.
Live streaming is the toughest test for technology, because latency and jitter is frustrating and cuts into the feeling that they are really there. Enabling technology must perform brilliantly, every time.
To do the job, Ben Martel, Liam’s Dad, sought out the grunt and scalability of the public cloud – though one that rose from data centres in New Zealand. He also required a cloud platform that met Ministry of Health standards for connectivity and security.
Working with Spark to source VR hardware and connectivity, he was introduced to Spark Health, and settled on AzureStack by CloudCreator – the provider’s Microsoft-enabled hybrid cloud ecosystem.
Unlike traditional live streaming, which typically broadcasts single events to large audiences, Patience Project is a one-to-one service, connecting each participant to their chosen live-streamed environment.
As such, video transcoding software at the core of the service requires incremental increases in processing power, as each additional environment is streamed to Azure Stack by CloudCreator and transcoded into a format for participant devices and their VR headsets.
Spinning up additional VMs to support new participants and their chosen live streamed environments is an extremely valuable feature – especially when additional capacity could be required at a moment’s notice.
When extra VMs are no longer used they can be shut down or deleted, keeping costs down. As participant numbers increase, Martel says plans are afoot to dynamically offload workloads to a GPU-accelerated processing platform to lower CPU overhead and smooth periods of high-demand processing.
And that may be just around the corner as University of Auckland researchers quantify project benefits and gauge potential in other sectors.