We have previously gathered a big set of special recordings of how sound propagates in the skull during operations at the dentist. Now we had the chance to combine that with the 3D scans and models from Planmeca units.
When those ingredients are combined in Virtual Reality, that makes quite a unique experience in itself. We hope this kind of immersive approach will show beneficial in helping patients suffering from phobia.
What it does
Put on the VR headset and headphones. See yourself in a mirror, sitting on a virtual dental chair. Imagine getting your dental cavity fixed in a minute, you can hear and almost feel the real thing. No actual drilling involved - this is not a drill!
How we built it
Latest advancements in consumer VR technology are pretty amazing, with surprisingly good visuals being now possible using mobile devices as well as latest audio advancements moving to use HRTF models and ambisonic audio. We have combined some of these bleeding edge technologies with some old tricks to pull this off. Getting the full experience absolutely requires headphones, there's no way to experience the realistic audio any other way!
Challenges we ran into
It's a challenge to create a pleasant experience from elements so often associated with fear or anxiousness.
But, it is also not exactly easy to define a concept with this kind of set of materials. You're sort of being a self-dentist, operating on yourself - hearing the results as if the operation is happening to you. But normally you can't see yourself when you sit on dental chair. We ended up showing a virtual dental chair and some environment, but also letting you to see yourself as an avatar through a mirror. To make it a bit more abstract and less uncanny valley, we show a headscan with a translucent material. That also makes it possible to nicely show a x-ray models of your teeth, with a little special effect showing the site of the operation.
The translucency also posed a challenge though. Since the VR is a 3D stereo view, certain combinations of translucent objects overlaid on top of each other looked very weird and unnatural. The solid and simple background offsets this kind of issues.
The 3D models we received were overall very detailed, with millions of polygons. There's a real challenge in showing that with a mobile VR hardware, where a reasonable amount of faces is perhaps something like 50k-200k faces, with no much leeway in material complexity. Regardless of some topology issues with the models, we managed to do a rough optimization of everything needed, squeezing the visible set in bit over 100k triangles, while retaining high enough fidelity where really needed.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We finally found a new concept for combining the collection of unique dental procedure audio data with a visually interesting experience.
What we learned
We feel this is not the final step in trying to make a "pleasant dentist experience". We feel like this is an important step in the right direction, but the main challenge still remains. Just having more control of the situation may not be enough, so there's plenty room for more experimentation.
What's next for "This is not a drill"
Depends on the amount of interest we get from potential partners. This kind of app is a possible entry point to the dental customer lifecycle, to the phase when there's not even the need yet to plan a visit to a dentist.