How virtual reality is changing the game in healthcare – Digital Nova Scotia – Leading Digital Industry
How virtual reality is changing the game in healthcare

December 14, 2022

Healthcare companies worldwide are harnessing the power of virtual reality to solve complex issues, including here in Nova Scotia. 

MARS VR Lab is taking on the task of making rehabilitation more exciting for children. 

“It’s impossible to keep kids engaged, and that just subsequently ripples and creates other stresses for clinicians, the patients and their parents and caregivers,” said Daniel Baldwin, the Halifax-based company’s co-founder and CEO.

It was a few years ago that doctors from the IWK approached Baldwin and his business partner, Shawn Greene, as the pair had a wealth of virtual reality knowledge from their former venture, Halifax VR.  

The doctors were having difficulties training paediatric patients transitioning into wheelchairs.

“There was a laundry list of reasons why. I mean if anyone’s done rehab or any type of physio before, it’s very boring and dry, plus it’s intimidating,” said Baldwin, adding it quickly became obvious that they needed to make it a game to keep it exciting. They put together a successful prototype, and soon after they signed a research and collaboration agreement with the hospital to build a product and take it to market.

And thus, MARS VR Lab was born.

The company’s current project, the XPod, is a power wheelchair training system. It’s in the second phase of clinical research trials, which means current paediatric power wheelchair users are testing it out. 

“It was very heartwarming and exciting when we moved into phase two and we got the first preliminary feedback from a current user that said, ‘I wish I had this to learn on,’” said Baldwin. 

“That was meaningful. I was like, ‘This is why we’re doing this.’ So that was really, really cool.”

From gaming to healthcare

Working in healthcare wasn’t necessarily always part of their plan.

Halifax VR allowed people to put on a headset and play—or just experience a new reality—for a few hours. 

While the pair was an early adopter of virtual reality, one customer in particular showed them the technology’s true power and potential.

“We had a lady contact us who had an ailing mother whose wish was always to go to Australia, and she asked if there was any way we could make that happen? And we said, ‘Absolutely we can do that for you,” he said.

The elderly woman wasn’t able to use the controllers on her own, so Daniel and Shawn jumped in and toured her around the faraway country. 

“After she left, we were just like, ‘Wow, that was meaningful.’I’ll never forget them…I remember everything about that afternoon.”

It’s a memory that still makes Baldwin emotional, and one he credits with shaping his career trajectory. 

Learn more about the MARS VR Lab journey by listening to episode 12 of our All Hands on Tech podcast!