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For years, the company ArchVirtual has been bringing architecture into the realm of virtual reality. Now, it’s trying to do the same for job training, and training medical professionals in particular.

ArchVirtual recently launched a software platform called Acadicus — a virtual reality platform that medical training facilities can use to teach and simulate procedures for aspiring nurses, emergency response technicians and clinicians. Two weeks after the project’s launch, company co-founder Jon Brouchoud said he’s already working with the UW Health Clinical Simulation Program to implement the technology there.

“With Acadicus, you can put on a headset, and be immersed with a medical expert,” Brochoud said. “You’re not a static observer, a passive observer of a video. You’re engaged in the learning. You’re able to pick up instruments and follow along.”

Brouchoud said that the software could be applied to any kind of environmental training, like construction or job safety walkthroughs. However, the company is primarily targeting medical training facilities for Acadicus' launch.

Schools that buy Acadicus get a library of virtual reality training simulations. A student pops on a virtual reality headset, picks a course, and find themselves in an operating room, an examination room, an ambulance, or any one of the software’s other pre-built environments. They might see the “avatars” of other students participating in the course, as well as that of an instructor, and have access to an inventory of tools, from scalpels to valve masks, as well as interactive assets like human dummies to practice procedures on.

From there, they’d be able to follow along the “instructor” as they walk through a medical procedure. Currently, Brouchoud said the technology is well-suited for teaching “broad-stroke” lessons — things like establishing a sterile field on a patient, or walking through the fundamentals of emergency response. In later iterations of the software, he hopes to enable more sophisticated lessons, such as complex surgical techniques.

But the real innovation that sets Acadicus apart, said Brouchoud, is the ability for instructors to record themselves giving demonstrations in Acadicus.

“An instructor literally walks in, hits record, and Acadicus records everything they’re saying, everything they’re doing,” said Brouchoud. “They can save that training into the library...and someone else can come in and see face-to-face this instructor talking.”

Brouchoud said this is an innovation in hands-on health care education. Up until this point, facilities have been investing in “sim-labs” — brick-and-mortar recreations of health care environments with high-tech equipment and mannequins — or acquire off-the-shelf or commissioned VR simulations that lack specificity or customizability.

A product like Acadicus, said Brouchoud, means that a facility wouldn’t have to invest millions in expensive sim-lab equipment, or commission a VR developer every time they want to make a new course in virtual reality.

“We’ve realized that, if we really wanna make a difference in the industry, the time and cost and complexity has to come down,” he said.

Although Brouchoud and ArchVirtual have made job training software before, the new focus on Acadicus represents a pivot: Up until recently, Brouchoud’s and ArchVirtual’s specialty had been in bringing architecture to life in VR. The company would render 3D models of basketball arenas, condos, or even Madison office buildings for either project managers or members of the public to experience firsthand.

Brouchoud decision to focus on medical training came about after the death of his father in 2018. He said that during his dad’s hospitalization, he learned about the shortage of nurses and medical professionals across the country — and moreover, the shortage of trainers that can lead to skills deficits among those in the health care industry.

Learning about that skills deficit profoundly shook him, he said. He even considered leaving ArchVirtual to go to medical school himself. However, he ultimately decided to use his existing skillset in VR development to help fix the problem.

He also decided to name the software after the Latin name of the Saw Whet owl, the bird that his father had spent his career studying.

Brouchoud launched the software at a medical simulation conference in San Antonio in January. He said it was met with strongly positive feedback, and that he is already working with a number of early partners on implementing the technology.

“There’s a couple of people nibbling around this from an academic perspective,” said Brouchoud. “I would say there’s no other tool like it on the market.”

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Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.