UZ Antwerpen and telecom operator Telenet are testing a Virtual Reality robot to take patients who are staying in hospital for long periods to another place, virtually. The robot, called ‘VRiendje’, works via a 5G connection; images are transmitted at lightning speed to create a Virtual Reality effect. UZ Antwerpen and Telenet have already carried out successful tests in the hospital's paediatric department. For the time being, this is a pilot project but, in the long term, similar applications will be rolled out further when 5G coverage is available everywhere.
VR goggles and a small robot - that's all you need to take young, hospitalised patients into the living room at their homes, their classroom or the gym. Various patients and their families in the paediatric department at Antwerp University Hospital have been able to try out VRiendje in recent months.
Move your head and look around your home
VRiendje is a mobile device in the shape of a small man measuring 20 cm. It is equipped with a 360-degree camera, microphones, speakers and a connection to the internet. The small robot is remotely connected to VR goggles that the patient wears in the hospital. The patient just has to move his head to look around the room where the robot is standing. He sees what is happening live in the other room and can speak through the microphone to the people there.
The robot was developed by Dutch company Horus VR and is distributed in Belgium by DIGIMedical. In recent months Telenet has been testing VRiendje in the paediatric department of the UZ Antwerpen.
Paul Van Aken, director of patient care, UZA: "A long stay in hospital is often a heavy burden for both patient and family. The past corona year in particular has been a tough one. Virtual reality and 5G technology can alleviate this problem and create a 'real' connection between the hospital and the home or classroom environment. It offers the patient genuine added value in comparison to the classic video call via smartphone. By putting on the glasses, the patient is ‘back home’ for a while. We hope to expand this in the future with respect to patient education and preparation for the operating theatre, for example."
Cédric Van Den Bogaerde (13 years old), patient: It’s lovely to feel like you’re at home, because in the hospital everything is often the same. With the VR glasses, it's like I'm at home."
Sylvie Collignon, Cédric’s mum: "It's great to know that Cédric can see and hear us well. And that he sees more than if we were just filming with the smartphone. He almost feels like he can touch our cat, for example."
Via 5G connection
To fully exploit the advantages of Virtual Reality, a connection via the fast 5G network is necessary. In recent months, Telenet successfully connected VRiendje to its own 5G network with a temporary licence to allow patients to test the application.
Piet Spiessens, 5G innovation manager Telenet: "This application requires 5G technology because the VR images are transmitted at high speed. The speed is crucial. 5G is twenty to thirty times faster than the current 4G network. Not only can the images be transmitted faster, but the quality also remains optimal. This also makes it a great example of how 5G can be used more and more in the future."
Alain Soetaert, CEO DIGIMedical: "Currently we can use this application to connect patients to their home, but we are dependent on the location having a strong Wi-Fi network. 5G technology is a huge leap forward in this respect. Wherever there is 5G coverage, we can make the patient or VR glasses user feel as if he or she is in another room."
This test is part of a series of pilot projects, but in time this could be rolled out further when 5G coverage is offered everywhere.