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VR and Gaming Supports Healing at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital: MiXR Studios Podcast with Guest J.J. Bouchard

Jeremy Nelson, Director of XR Initiative

JJ Bouchard at a technology hub desk with video game system monitors, instruments and more
JJ Bouchard at his office working to help C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital patients.

In this week’s MiXR Studios podcast, we talk with J.J. Bouchard, the manager of patient technology program at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. J.J. helped create this amazing program at the children’s hospital and is charged with bringing recreational, educational, and extended reality technology into patients’ rooms. As a child life specialist, J.J. uses these technologies to connect with patients and volunteers to support these technologies in the hospital. The Mott Golf Classic donated a number of Xboxes to the hospital one year, and J.J. saw that as an opportunity to advocate for a funded position to have him manage devices and build out a program to transform how children can access life-altering technologies while they are in the hospital.

The team at Mott was an early adopter of VR technology starting with the Oculus DK1. An Ann Arbor startup called GameStart School volunteers with patients at the hospital to teach coding and the founder, Nathan Aschenbach, brought a DK1 to show JJ. That was a game changer for patients and for JJ. The patients could build games in VR and then try them out on the Oculus, and the level of engagement was amazing. This has led to XR technology being used seven days a week at the patient’s bedside.

In 2016, the Pokemon Go phenomenon came to Mott, and J.J. and his team embraced it. They created stops and began using it to help patients with mobility and rehab. During the pandemic, the ability to use VR headsets has been limited and they have turned to mobile phone AR by partnering with another Ann Arbor company, Spellbound, to create a new experience called ARISE to help increase mobility and engage patients. This has been an incredible way for kids that are spending a lot of time in bed to motivate them to get up and move.

The tweet above shows  Tammy from SpellBound is playing with a patient during an event at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, called “Mott Arcade.”

We explore the many challenges and risks that many of these XR applications inherently have when it comes to security and privacy. J.J. and his team spend a lot of time evaluating applications and platforms to help determine what potential issues there may be and they help educate patients and families about these risks. Some of the new AR applications like Harry Potter Wizards Unite require a Facebook, Google, or Apple account to login. When applications require a social media account to login, they are discouraged from being used for the privacy of the patients and the other people in the hospital. There are some serious risks as these technologies advance and begin to sense the environment or map your biometrics that will need to be addressed before widespread use. One of the reasons they like working with Spellbound is the app doesn’t require users to create an account or submit personal information.

CS Mott Children's Hospital patient wearing vr headset with HAIL! written on the headset
Harbaugh Fund helps Patients Explore the Big House in VR

J.J. is exploring social VR as a way to continue to innovate in this space to help patients connect with friends or family that are remote or distanced. J.J. has been testing some titles such as Star Trek: Bridge Crew and Rec Room. Rec Room has some great features as it allows people to connect from a mobile phone, PC, Console, or a VR headset. This would offer ways for multiple people to interact with the patient to connect in new ways. While these social VR platforms offer great opportunities to connect, there are still outstanding concerns about what the companies are doing with the data and where they are sharing it.

We conclude our conversation with a discussion around a program where students at the University of Michigan build Mixed Reality experiences for the Microsoft HoloLens and can come see how their work impacts the lives of the patients. One of the stories that J.J. shares is about a block building AR experience for the HoloLens where patients can use their hands to create and manipulate blocks and explore physics with and without gravity. The children had a great time with this application and could interact with their friends and have them build together or knock over their block creations. Finally, J.J. shares his concerns and what excites him about the future of XR.

I had a great time talking with J.J. and learning about the amazing work he and his team have done and his passion is contagious. Please share with us what you would like to learn more about in the XR space at [email protected].

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Transcript: MiXR Studios, Episode 22

Jeremy Nelson (00:05):
Hello, I’m Jeremy Nelson. And today we are talking with JJ Bouchard, who is the manager of the patient technology program at CS Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. We are talking about his innovative work to bring video games, as well as augmented and virtual reality to children at CS Mott. Coming up next in our mixr podcast. Hello, JJ. Welcome. Thanks for joining us today.

JJ Bouchard (00:38):
Hi, thanks for having me.

Jeremy Nelson (00:40):
Yeah, I’m excited to have you as a guest today and have our listeners learn more about the exciting work you’re doing at Mott’s and your path to where you are today. So yeah, for folks that aren’t aware of what’s happening at Mott I’d love to have you share that and just to kind of talk about your journey.

JJ Bouchard (01:01):
Yeah, yeah, sure. So yeah, I’m the manager of our patient technology program at CS Mott’s children’s hospital. And our goal is to use technology to enhance our patient experiences and we use recreational and educational technology. So things people don’t usually think of like video games Lego robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality YouTube, social media, all the stuff that kids and people actually use every day and, and think of you know, the hospital, that’s not their first priority in most places. Usually they’re trying to make sure that the medical equipment is working and functioning. And I kind of whereas inspired by some other, other people out there in the world who were doing, who were using games and entertainment to help kids in the hospital. And I evolved my role. I was a child life specialist and I evolved my role into kind of basically overseeing all of the fun equipment at the hospital.

Jeremy Nelson (02:01):
Well, this was, this was your brain child too, right? This was your idea. This is how you started that.

JJ Bouchard (02:06):
Yeah, I so like I said, I was a child life specialist and my job before this was to basically help prepare kids for difficult procedures and that they would be going through in the hospital. I talked to them on their level and I’d use different types of distraction tools to, to engage them while they’re having shots or having a burn dressing change or something that might be painful and cause them anxiety. I would use things like toys and bubbles and books and video games to help distract them. And as we kept moving forward in the world with technology, we found that video games and iPads and things like that were incredibly useful tools for that. And yeah, but the hospital didn’t manage them there very well. So I kind of like volunteered and said, you know, I love all these things anyway, I’d love to be the person who helps integrate this technology that people use every single day into the hospital environment and use it for therapeutic purposes. And that’s kind of how my role evolved.

Jeremy Nelson (03:08):
That’s that’s great. And I mean, was that a challenge? I know it can be difficult sometimes with the IT infrastructure and security and healthcare. How did that go?

JJ Bouchard (03:17):
Yeah, when I first started doing it, it was, it was difficult, but I think with, I started trying to do this type of stuff before iPads existed, if you can remember a world before iPads, but once everybody had their iPhones and basically use that to keep themselves busy all the time. You know, I mean, riding on the bus, waiting for the doctor, something like that, it was very easy to convince the higher ups, the administrative nursing, everybody else, like how important this technology is, video games and and that type of stuff, cause everyone is a gamer now everyone uses an iPhone. So yeah, it made it easier. It’s still, you know, every day trying to work with IT to try and figure out, you know, there’s all these kind of rules regarding compliance and safety and things like that. So that’s that’s the hard part, the easy is trying to convince people that it’s important isn’t hard anymore. That’s the fun part.

Jeremy Nelson (04:15):
Yeah. No, that’s, that’s great. And did, didn’t it start through to like a golf charity or what do you remember?

JJ Bouchard (04:23):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it was, it was very serendipitous. Everything kind of just came together at the right time. I was, I was running on that activity room on our hematology oncology clinic and a charity called the Mott golf classic that has donated tons and tons of money to support technology and education and recreation in the hospital. They had just donated X boxes or they were about to put Xboxes in every single patient room. And I kind of pointed out to them, you know, if you’re going to put these gaming systems in every room, you kinda, you need somebody to support them besides an IT person, like, because, you know, just even when the batteries don’t work or trying to switch the input on the television, like nursing doesn’t have time to be in charge of that in our IT team.

JJ Bouchard (05:13):
You know, they’re trying to make sure all the medical equipment is working. And so I kind of became that in between. I understood how the patients used the equipment. I used the equipment every day with the patients. And we went to the charity and said, you know, thank you for putting all this stuff here. Would you be willing to fund a pilot program where basically you funded my position for three years where I make sure all the wonderful equipment you gave us actually works. And they said, yes. And so they, they piloted a program. The hospital saw the value in that program, especially which we added things like bedside virtual reality. And the hospital took on my role under their operational budget. But it would never have been possible without the Mott golf classic.

Jeremy Nelson (05:56):
Oh, that’s great. Yeah, no, it’s a, it’s a wonderful event and, and the work being done there is so important. I participated in that in the past and volunteered at it. And so it’s, it’s a great event for sure. You’ve mentioned VR a couple of times, so what is your experience and how did that get started? I think you had an interesting story.

JJ Bouchard (06:16):
Yeah. So VR is, is kinda kind of what really put us on the map as a hospital using gaming and entertainment and right when the Oculus first came out, when the dev kit first came out at that time I was working with an afterschool program called GameStart School. And they they were, they were here in Ann Arbor and they, they were coming over to the hospital. First they started, they were doing voluntary and then we were able to get some donor funding to get them in more, but they were basically coming to the hospital and teaching our kids how to code at bedside. And so the kids were like coding in Minecraft and doing all kinds of fun stuff. And then one day one of their founders Nathan Aschenbach, who actually now works for Oculus. He said, Hey man, I got something really cool.

JJ Bouchard (07:03):
You want to check it out? And he invited me over to their, to their workspace and he had an Oculus dev kit there and I tried it out and I said, Oh my God, we have to get this to the patients. It was, it was, it just blew my mind. And it was everything that like, as a kid, I always wanted, like I’m in a video game. And what was really cool was the way that the Oculus was designed was like the games that they had been making with the kids. A lot of them were third or were first person games kind of like Minecraft and stuff like that. And we could immediately take the code from those games, plug it into the Oculus. And they were, kids were able to just jump right into their own game. It was really cool. Yeah.

JJ Bouchard (07:41):
It was really cool on like multiple levels. But we, we brought, we brought the Oculus into the playroom and recorded with their permission, recorded a bunch of kids, riding roller coasters and put it up on YouTube and it got a lot of attention. And from there we got a lot of donor interest and so we were able to provide, now we provide virtual reality and augmented reality experiences to patients seven days a week at our hospital bedside purely just for their entertainment. But also sometimes we use it for distractive purposes if they’re dealing with physical pain or anxiety or things like that.

Jeremy Nelson (08:16):
Yeah. It works wonders. I actually, I did a little experiment with my daughter when we went to get an immunization. She’s always, the anticipation always just terrifies her. And so I told her we could try the Oculus in the room and, you know, I had to do a little explaining to the folks at the clinic cause they thought it was a camera and they thought I was filming. And I was like, no, no, no, this is a VR headset. Once we got back in the exam room, she put it on, like, she didn’t even know what happened. Like had the immunization, like the nurse was like, okay, you’re done. And she’s like, what we’re done? So it definitely worked for her anxiety and that, that anticipation. Well, what types of experiences are you bringing to patients today? Or what sort of?

JJ Bouchard (08:58):
Yeah, so we’re, we’re all over the place. We’ve I’ve so we had two big moments for us. There was that first video, YouTube video we did with Oculus, which really brought a lot of attention. We got donations for PlayStation fours and other devices. And we basically tried every headset out there. But then what then about a year later Pokemon Go came out and again, we kind of like revolutionize how recreational entertainment is used in the hospital. Every other hospital in the world, really, not every, but the majority were banning Pokemon Go and we right away because of what we had already established with our video games and, and technology our administrators were excited to use Pokemon Go. They were actually calling me and saying like, Hey, how are you using this?

JJ Bouchard (09:49):
And I was like, I haven’t even tried it yet. Like which was really cool. That’s what I knew that we were onto something. And so we had set up Pokemon Go spots all over our hospital. We identified where the gyms were and all that. And we were encouraging our patients to use it because of the movement that mixed reality was providing. And so that was another big one we were on USA today and people were really excited about how we were using it. Hospitals were reaching out to us asking, how are you doing this safely? And I was more than happy to share that with everyone. So fast forward to today where we’re in our current state of the pandemic and everybody’s on lockdown and now every patient is an isolation. Our playrooms are closed. We can’t really use virtual reality right now because we’re still kind of understanding how COVID works in this transcendence.

JJ Bouchard (10:37):
So we don’t want to put headsets on people. But we are working with a local company called spellbound who have provided us lots of really cool augmented reality interactions in the past. We’ve been working with them for a long time. But they’ve created this thing called arise that it’s basically like fat head stickers that we stick on the walls and we give them to the kids and they, they have a game that, that they can just download on their phone. So I don’t have to provide them with the device. I don’t have to worry about cleaning a device. And they, it’s basically like all these little stickers that have like an underwater sea theme and the kids can go and hold their phone up to it. And you get the mixed reality experience, like a shark jumps out and talks to you or some other creature pops out depending on what sticker you’re looking at.

JJ Bouchard (11:23):
But then they also have this little home base that’s like a little placemat that they can sit on their lap and there, they have like, they collect all these items and then they bring it to the home base and they can kind of design their own little underwater sea world kind of like a animal crossing if you played that game. So it’s this cool hybrid of Pokemon go and animal crossing. And we’re, we’re using that at our hospital. We had actually planned on using this before the pandemic, as an idea to get patients motivated, to get them up out of bed and walking around the hallways. They always stick their stickers on the hall and, or hide their stickers all over the room and explore their room. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But now with the pandemic, like it’s being, we just started using it the last couple of weeks.

JJ Bouchard (12:11):
And actually some of our tastes, patients are acting as like they’re, they’re our beta testers and they’re just kind of like, we tell them, like, try to break this game. We want to see if it works before we give it to everybody. And it’s, it’s been a lot of fun. They’re, they’re getting up out of bed, they’re moving around, they’re exploring, they’re staying engaged. We’ve had patients who play with play with the game for like a couple hours. And that’s a big, that’s a big thing for kids who typically just spend the whole day in bed because that’s just how the hospital is made. It’s not the hospital’s not designed to get you moving, but there’s a lot of research that shows that the more you move while you’re in the hospital, the quicker you heal and the, and the, and the better longterm results from your hospitals there are. So it’s just kind of a neat little way to motivate kids to get up out of bed and move.

Jeremy Nelson (13:05):
Yeah. Yeah. It reminds me of, I took our kids to Great Wolf Lodge a few winters back, and like that whole hotel is built like a maze and you go around and you have your bond and stuff like that. So did the Harry Potter unite her Harry Potter wizard like AR experience ever take off? I mean, I know it didn’t pick up like Pokemon did.

JJ Bouchard (13:27):
Yeah. You know, that one didn’t take off as much. I had hoped it was cause I’m a big Harry Potter fan. And I honestly like the minute the problem for me with Harry Potter was that it in a lot of apps now is that they require you to connect to Facebook or they require you to connect to another social app. And so, especially when we’re in the hospital, we have to really think about the kids’ safety. I can’t introduce them to something that’s going to force them to be on social media. We have to take privacy into account and things like that. So I actually have lots of conversations with game developers on, can you please make this game more accessible? Because we would use it every single day if it was. And, and so I’ve, I’ve had a lot of, I’ve had some interesting conversations with the folks at Oculus and folks at developing like the different types of headsets. And the biggest issue that we have with them is that they’re so hard to clean. Right. I tell them I would use your headset. I would buy a hundred of them right now if we could just clean it properly. Yeah.

Jeremy Nelson (14:29):
Well, well, I have a new one. I want to, when we can meet up, I want to show you, it’s called, it’s called the Pico. Oh yeah. Neo 2. There is no cloth. There’s no cloth anywhere on this thing. I don’t know if it meets your requirements, but it definitely, it looks like it does so.

JJ Bouchard (14:47):
Kind of, I mean, if you just said, no cloth, you might’ve sold me. We use the PlayStation headset the most because it’s the only one that we can clean thoroughly to like how we, how we have to. So, yeah.

Jeremy Nelson (14:58):
Yeah. And it’s a, it’s all six DOF. It’s a little bit interesting. I’ll have two cameras on the front and then the magnetic controllers, controllers actually track. And so you get a little bit more mobility where I don’t know if you’ve tried the Quest lately, but if the controllers go out of view of the inside out cameras, they kind of lose it, lose tracking. Right? And you can’t, if you need certain mobility or somebody is in a bed, I could imagine this device being a little more accessible in that way. Well you, you mentioned earlier, the, the AR and it brought up some interesting ethical potentials of like, you have these cameras on all the time. Right. And they’re scanning the environment and depending on the developer and their links in to social channel, like, have you had any of those discussions or have you had to ban any types of apps because they might be like basically surveying surveillance?

JJ Bouchard (15:53):
Right. Yeah. So, and that’s why we usually have it on patients own devices. So the patient, the patient chooses to use that app or not like, I can’t tell you not to download Pokemon Go on your camera or on your phone. And I can’t tell you to not use it. I can tell you not to use your camera in certain parts of the hospital. But that, yeah, that’s why we, I don’t really push Harry Potter because there’s no way to use it without being connected to social media. There might be, and I’m not just not aware of it, but I couldn’t find one. And that’s why, that’s why like, like when, when we work with a company like spellbound, like that’s the first thing we check. We’re like, Hey, this can’t be a, you know, taking, they don’t even have the camera feature on theirs like, like you could do a camera by doing the typical, like push the two buttons on the side, but they don’t have it built into their game because of that very reason.

JJ Bouchard (16:52):
And so, so a lot of what my job is, is actually like bringing awareness to patients and their families, like letting them know, Hey, this is a great app, but just so you know, it might be taking this information from you. So if you’re in your room and you’re doing this, just know, like this is a camera and they can see what you see. And then if the patient chooses to use that, then that’s the, or the, or the family or whoever the guardian is like, that’s, that’s their choice. And, and in that sense, I’m not providing them a device that would be capturing that information. It’s their own device.

Jeremy Nelson (17:23):
Yeah. Free, isn’t always free.

JJ Bouchard (17:26):
Right. We’ve actually bummed a lot of kids out because they’ll ask us for like a, like a shooter or some kind of game that’s kind of violent and Mom will be like, yeah, that’s okay. And we tell them beforehand, we’re like, well, you do know that it’s rated M and it’s for this, this, and this reason, they’re like, Oh, I didn’t know that. I just thought it was a video game. And they’re like, why did you tell my mom that? And we’re like, well, cause that’s our job.

Jeremy Nelson (17:46):
Right, right. Yeah. Duty to report. Well, the part you mentioned earlier, which I don’t think I’d heard when we met before, is students or patients creating their own code and kind of being able to experience that. Have you, have you been able to continue that? Or is that an area that, you know, I’ve been talking to a lot of companies that have now Web XR, and they have platforms to, you know, kind of almost no code developing 3D experiences. Have you done anything in that space or would that be an area of interest to explore?

JJ Bouchard (18:19):
It would definitely be an area of interest to explore it. It’s an area that we’ve weaved in and out of, depending on who. So I, I have I have a team who I work with and they’re called the patient technology specialists. And then in some hospitals, they call them gaming technology specialists. And they, they, their, their area of knowledge in that area and that area differs. So I actually have one team member who is, he used to work for GameStart, and that’s what they were known for. And so he’s really going back and really trying to learn coding and coding for kids in a way so that he can, he can kind of bring that to the next level for us as we kind of faded out, honestly, when VR came to the hospital, kids get lost interest in coding and they really got into, like,

JJ Bouchard (19:05):
And now, especially with the pandemic, like they’re really getting more into like kids really enjoy we do a lot of robotics coding with very simple coding with robotics and lego robotics, and kids can play that. And so now we’re trying to take that to that next level. I was working with a programmer named Fred Beam who helped us make a game with kids called camp magic and there’s this really cool summer camp that he created for kids using, I believe it was unity. And it’s just exclusive to, well, he built it for our hospital, but I think others can find it on the Oculus store now. But it, it it’s just a really cool experience. And what was fun with that was like he was learning to code and creating this huge, this awesome environment for us before he was just a filmmaker who did filming with 360 cameras.

JJ Bouchard (19:56):
And then he was like, well, I want to try and build something for you guys using Unity. And he spent like a whole year of his life, like creating this amazing experience for our kids. And the kids like he would make something and we’d let the kids play with it. And then they’d come back and they’d say, yeah, what if it could do this? Or what if it could do that? And it turned into this really amazing place that looks like a summer camp, but you have magic wands and you can go fishing and build things. And it was really cool and it was a really fun project to work on him with. And he did it all completely for free and all for the kids at the hospital. And we, we would have these big events and invite the kids to play with it. He also like built some little rec rooms for our kids to play with. And so we’re, we’re, we’re excited to try to get the kids back in there once we start really figuring out how to manage cleaning and keeping everyone safe through the pandemic.

Jeremy Nelson (20:43):
Right. Yeah. No, that’s, I didn’t know about that. That’s really cool. I’ll check that out and yeah, I mean, that’s one of the things we’re, we’re interested in exploring, like how do we reduce that time to create from, you know, six, eight, twelve months down to something quicker. And, you know, we’re starting to see more companies move into this space and using the web to develop experiences that can be iterated on much, much faster. Which I think will help. I think will bring more people into the space. Yeah. So what other things have you seen that are, the patients enjoy or they’ve they’ve gravitated toward?

JJ Bouchard (21:22):
Yeah, they I think one thing that was kind of really cool was the first time we did Minecraft in VR, and I know people have mixed feelings about the Minecraft VR experience, but for a lot of our kids, like Minecraft is still huge. It’s still a big game for a lot of that creative process. So doing something like Minecraft or I’m blanking on the name of it, Tilt Brush, Tilt Brush was another really fun experience for our kids. And that was one that I that’s when I really saw the the healing potential of VR was I had a kid who has a chronic pain disease and movement it’s called sickle cell. And movement is a key factor to helping to reduce that pain. But, but you’re typically in so much pain that you don’t want to move.

JJ Bouchard (22:16):
Right. And we put this young man in and he was, he was going through a pain crisis and, but he still really wanted to try VR. So he, he tried it out and you can actually, there’s a video online on YouTube of us using a Tilt Brush. And you can see him using it. And he went from a pain score of nine, which is one of the highest, most painful you can score. And he went down to a six or a seven, which is still pretty high, but for someone going through what he goes through, that’s, that’s actually baseline for him. That’s like a pretty good experience that he had a smile on his face. And we actually had a donor end up getting him a PlayStation VR so that he could use it at home to help cope with this pain. But he said, yeah, he’s just like, I love to create and being in Tilt Brush and being able to create all around you in this world, he said, it just kind of like chilled him out, but he was moving and this was really a cool experience.

Jeremy Nelson (23:10):
That’s fascinating. Have you, before this, were you starting to explore any of the social VR platforms yet?

JJ Bouchard (23:17):
Yeah. Yeah, I actually just did. What did I just use? I, I used the Star Trek game for the first time this weekend. So other people with jobs similar to mine across the country, we all meet every week to discuss like how we’re, what we’re doing and how we’re doing things. And we all got together this past Saturday to, to do bridge crew with Star Trek. And, and and so now what we’re trying to explore is just like what social games are out there that we can safely provide our patients so that they can connect. Rec Room was one that was really exciting for me. I’m trying to, I’m working with a, I was working with Fred Beam to try to figure out, like, how do we create a secure space for kids to connect where we’re not breaking any hospital policies or privacy policies. And what was cool about Rec Room that I liked was like, you could, you could be in VR, but then you could also have like your brother at home on his own phone and still interact with you in virtual reality. And that was something that was really like truly mind boggling to me was like, wow, did they make this work?

JJ Bouchard (24:22):
But that was cool. That was really cool. And that’s the kind of stuff that we’re looking into now is like, how, like you said, like, how do we socialize, but do it in a safe space.

Jeremy Nelson (24:31):
Yeah. We’ve been looking at, you know, there’s, there’s some interesting ones there’s like, I think a big screen VR, cinema VR, basically you can, you can set up a private movie theater and you can go watch a movie or a show together in VR. And so we’re actually talking about that with, with our team, you know, we’re all remote and distanced. And actually I have two developers that started, and we’ve, we’ve not all met in person yet because they started during the pandemic. But we were talking about like trying to do a social, like team event and like, well, maybe we meet up in one of these, you know, watch a movie together or talk about it, or try, you know, there’s all space VR, which is, you know, can be a bit challenging because you can, you know, you have the trolls out there and, you know, it’s a little unwieldy of who’s going to show up.

Jeremy Nelson (25:20):
But yeah, I think there’s some really interesting potential we’re seeing with, for students, you know, in learning and students being remote and hybrid, we’re exploring platforms like for architecture, so they can do virtual walkthroughs of their work, the architecture students design 3D models of buildings and structures, and exploring that we’re exploring things with the HoloLens, with medical students and nursing students, so they can learn skills and participate in rounds remotely. So there’s, there’s some interesting ways to use this technology to try to address some of this it’s it’s going to be a fun journey.

JJ Bouchard (25:59):
Yeah. We, we did a fun project with the HoloLens a few years back, we were working with some students at U of M and they created a, basically a block building app with the HoloLens. So kids could use their hands to create these virtual blocks and, and very basic shapes like squares, rectangles triangles, but then they could add physics to it so they could make it so that they float or they could just, you can turn gravity on and they would drop. And kids had a blast just like building these big archways around their friends and then knocking them over. And we actually had a girl scout group donated some money to our they did a fundraiser and donated money to our program. And so we invited them over to the hospital and we let them it out in this big conference room that we have.

JJ Bouchard (26:46):
And the girls were just running around, like laughing it up. Cause half they couldn’t, we casted the image onto our computer so they could see what their friend was seeing. And they were like, Oh, don’t throw the block at me. Don’t drop it on me. And it was a lot of fun and that was it. That’s, that’s some of the fun things that we’ve done with like students at U of M is we’ve invited them to come with us and like create something and then come and and watch the kids play with the thing you made. And a lot of people don’t get to see that or experience that.

Jeremy Nelson (27:15):
Sure, it’s gotta be rewarding. Any concerns you have for the future of this technology or things you’ve seen or areas to be, I mean, you touched on a little bit with the social, you know, how it’s all trying to move to these social platforms, but social things?

JJ Bouchard (27:28):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, my biggest, my biggest concern is like the misfires when it comes, especially to augmented reality, because I think it’s such a great and mixed reality. Like it’s such a great tool and it could be used so well, but sometimes it’s just kind of like it when, when big things, like when Pokemon Go kind of did great and then didn’t do good. And then, you know, like they did some good things and bad things. And like, that’s the kind of thing where like, wow, everybody sees this technology and they know what it is, and now it can just become common, like just there. And then, you know, they had a couple failures and, and they just kind of like fell to the wayside again, or, Oh, it’s just a gimmick. And so I’m, it bums me out when I see these great opportunities that kind of go away.

JJ Bouchard (28:13):
And and the same thing with VR, like you have these, these cool headsets coming out, but then we can’t use them because they’re, they’re all cloth or, you know, or it’s too expensive, or it’s too hard to get in. I love, I love the Oculus Quest out of all the headsets, because it’s so accessible, you just put it on and you’re in your game and you go, and I think that’s, that’s where the next generation of these, this technology needs to go is like, it just has to be as intuitive as turning on your computer, or maybe even more intuitive than that since it’s kind of like foreign to people.

Jeremy Nelson (28:47):
Right. And reduce that friction that friction to entry has got to be very low. Right? Yeah. Well, I know we’re exploring over at the Duderstadt center, these clean box technology, have you heard of this?

JJ Bouchard (28:59):
I have. I’m very interested in, in doing that. Cause I think that’s going to help us a lot in the hospital.

Jeremy Nelson (29:05):
Yeah, yeah. I think we’re going to get one or two of those for the VR lab over there just to, you know, clean the devices in between student use.

JJ Bouchard (29:14):
Yeah. No, that’s a great idea. And that’s, I know some other medical institutions who’ve been using VR with their patients have been using clean boxes. So yeah, I’d love to, to see how that works with your team and explore that for our kids.

Jeremy Nelson (29:32):
Yeah, no, this is, this has been great. I’ve loved learning more about what you’ve been doing and stuff I didn’t know, and then sharing this with our audience. So I really appreciate you taking the time and all the work you’re doing and it’s great. It’s inspiring. And so thank you.

JJ Bouchard (29:47):
Oh, thank you so much for having me I really appreciate it.

Jeremy Nelson (29:50):
All right, take care.

JJ Bouchard (29:52):
All right, thanks.

Jeremy Nelson (29:57):
Thank you for joining us today. Our vision for the XR initiative is to enable education at scale that is hyper contextualized using XR tools and experiences. Please subscribe to our podcast and check out more about our work at

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