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Back from the future – innovation for pharma

After 5 days of seeing amazing innovations, having discussions about the future of medicine and the practicalities of living on Mars. Plus listening to inspiring speakers from fighter plane-flying physicians to the current President of the USA, it’s not surprising that South by South West (SXSW) leaves you inspired but with your head spinning (and not just from the jet-lag!)


It’s not possible, no matter how hard you try, to see everything on offer during the interactive festival. The sheer volume of sessions, combined with their disparate locations, requires serious planning and endless revisions throughout the day. You find yourself trying to take in as much as you can while your smartphone is nagging you to head across town to the next thing. In the end the result is that you get a flavour of what is happening, a tech zeitgeist. This year it broadly fell into two camps.  

The first – the virtual It was hard to turn a corner in downtown Austin without seeing a virtual reality (VR) headset. From individual sets on start-up booths, to the full-on VR experience of the Samsung Lounge, immersive experiences were the order of the day. Samsung focused on giving you realistic experiences, a rollercoaster ride where the Gear VR headset is combined with headphones and a motion control seat. Luckily my hectic schedule, running from one thing to the next, meant that I hadn’t eaten before I was flung around (virtually and physically), which meant that I had no lunch to lose. Gaming of course is going to be the initial benefactor of VR technologies and having spent a few minutes spinning round on an office chair and blasting aliens I could definitely see the appeal. Making the leap from entertainment to healthcare for VR seems simple and there are already great examples of how this has been used to allow bed-bound patients to experience the outside world. The health-related examples on show on the Med Tech exhibition floor showed less promise – using the technology to add a layer of, frankly unnecessary, VR cool to otherwise lacklustre health tracking apps.  

The second – the physical Whilst one vision of a possible future sees us plugged into virtual worlds, our eyes and ears covered with headsets, there was a move to a more physical, tactile future on show in Austin. Inside the pristine white space of the Sony Future Lab the emphasis was on a hands-free (and in some cases screen-free) world. Project N – a tech-necklace (techlace?) that surrounds your head with music but still allows you to hear and experience the outside world was typical of the Sony view that we need to be freed from our screens and headphones and reconnect with the physical world. Their interactive projection table was another example where physical touch on real objects created the interface. More hand waving was in order in the IBM Cognitive lounge where I played Rock, Paper Scissors (and won) against a rather cute robot, then tried to move a BB-8 droid with my mind. All this bodes well for the future of healthcare. Using smart phones is not right for everyone and in some cases not possible. Interacting with technology through voice commands, physical gestures and even thought, opens up a world of possibilities to help patients with a variety of conditions.  

To read more about the inspiring, head-spinning innovation Nigel found at SXSW, click here to read his blog for lots more interesting insights from across this interactive festival.



23rd June 2016

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