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Durham’s Lucid Dream, a virtual and augmented reality startup, aims to revolutionize healthcare

DURHAM – Lucid Dream is on the rise.

Earlier this month, the virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) startup announced plans to grow its workforce – from 14 to 18 employees by the end of the year.

Since launching in 2016, the Durham-based startup has built over 80 VR/AR tools for a broad variety of clients including Dell, Red Hat, and the City of Durham. But it’s the pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech clients where they’re seeing an “outsized impact.”

“These customers are coming back with ideas faster than we can build them,” says chief product officer and co-founder Mike McArdle. “We’re grateful to have the robust life science community right here in Research Triangle Park.”

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently got the chance to find out what’s happening behind the scenes with McArdle and his co-founder, Joshua Setzer. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Tell us how you got started.

Mike McArdle: I can tell my side of the story. I’ve always had a fascination with cutting edge technology; I grew up in a family of early adopters and technology enthusiasts. During my professional career, I worked in healthcare market research, conducting in-depth interviews and research surveys on CNS (Central Nervous System) drugs for companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. When the Oculus Rift, the first viable entrant in the modern wave of virtual reality headsets, announced its kickstarter in 2012, I eagerly jumped on board. Every subsequent developer kit and headset that ended up on my doorstep had improved by leaps and bounds, and the potential of the technology to transform the life sciences grew too big to ignore. Josh and I had met through our partners, and we decided to work on a few VR projects together. As those projects grew in size, complexity, and scope, we realized we were onto something and decided to form a team.

  • What factors are driving growth?

Mike McArdle: The visual quality of VR/AR devices has rapidly improved in recent years, while hardware costs keep dropping. This makes headsets more affordable for consumers, and large-scale deployment more approachable for enterprise customers wanting to improve the effectiveness of marketing and training programs.

Additionally, patients have a voracious desire to take more ownership over their own health education & research, especially as doctors have less and less time to answer questions. Advances in medical science create a constant need for continuing education for clinicians and patients to stay current,  so VR/AR can help fill the void.

Lastly, there’s a growing desire among Life Sciences companies to innovate faster, not just in R&D but also commercialization, training, and manufacturing. Our agile approach helps them build and deploy VR/AR content fast while working within established regulatory guardrails.

Inside one of Lucid Dream’s Learning Labs.

 

  • How does Lucid Dream help life science companies?

Joshua Setzer: We’re using VR/AR to make scientifically complex information easier to understand and more compelling (for both healthcare providers and patients).

The 3D educational content we’re building in VR/AR  is much stickier and more interactive than traditional, 2-dimensional media. This is important because medical science is always expanding and providers and patients need to be continuously re-educated to stay current – and they don’t have time to re-learn something more than once.

We’re also combining VR/AR visuals with haptics to help providers (and employees at life science companies!) develop greater empathy for what patients are going through. We believe this can lead to better quality care and patient outcomes.

There’s also a tremendous amount of avoidable human error both in healthcare delivery and in quality control for pharma / med device manufacturing. Our VR/AR training provides highly realistic but simulated 3D environments where employees can safely practice high-risk situations without disrupting day-to-day operations.

  • You said it’s the pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech clients where you’re seeing an “outsized impact.” Are you surprised by this? When you got into this space, is that where you expected to see the growth?

Joshua Setzer: We always expected VR/AR to have a tremendous impact on health, but recognizing that some of our client companies have been around for over 100 years, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how willing they are to consider new ideas and technology. As R&D-driven organizations, they intuitively understand that you must relentlessly innovate to remain a leader in your field. When you combine this open mindset with an end-user community of patient and healthcare professionals intrinsically motivated to improve, you start to see high app usage.

  • What are typical project focus areas? How long do they take? 

Mike McArdle: Typical project cycle is three to six months, depending on complexity.  Common focus areas are:  3D Disease Education (for patients & providers); 360-Degree Facility Tours; immersive sales demos for conference and seminars; conversation simulators for sales staff; and simulation-based training for manufacturing line workers.

Lucid Dream CEO Joshua Setzer demos VR tech and its application for municipalities to help with urban planning and development. (Latisha Catchatoorian, WRAL)

  • From other reports, VR/AR is having a huge impact. What is Lucid seeing?

Joshua Setzer: From some recent client feedback, a $18 billion pharmaceutical company reduced training costs 35 percent by transitioning to VR-based leadership development programming for their global sales team. We also helped a biotech company enable employees to experience simulated symptoms of a rare disease first hand in virtual reality, deepening their empathy for the patient demographic they serve. Another one of our projects included helping a $50 billion tech company increase booth traffic by 350 percent at industry conferences using VR-based marketing.

  • You are expanding your workforce. Where will you be adding jobs?

Mike McArdle: We’ll be adding 4 positions this quarter in sales, software development, project management, and logistics.

  • Do you think you will be outgrowing your space anytime soon?

We are in our 5th office space in less than 4 years, but we deliberately moved into an office in the heart of downtown Durham in early 2019 where we have some room to grow. We should be able to comfortably scale to around 25 before we outgrow our walls.

  • Where do you see yourselves in five years’ time?

In addition to our work for life science companies, we want to start bringing our own VR/AR-based health and wellness apps to market. We see a lot of opportunities in the software-as-a-medical-device (SaMD) space, and are encouraged by recent steps the FDA has taken to provide clearer guidelines on the future of digital therapeutics.

Source: WRAL TechWire