Capped in the Back of the Head … a Lot

Over the years I have notice an interesting pattern in the way that innovations enter the marketplace. A technology that is intended for one purpose often finds greater utility and appeal in a completely different context.  The examples are many (the telephone, TNT, the gramophone, Teflon, and so on) and there is even a body of research on the subject.

Sometimes an innovative idea finds re-application in a market with diametrically opposed purposes to the one in which it was conceived. This week, I came upon an eye-brow arching example of this while I was researching telehealth solutions.

Dr. Mark Ombrellaro got impatient while awaiting FDA approval for a telehealth haptic system that enables a physician to remotely perform a physical examination of a patient.  This vascular surgeon developed a telehealth-enabled vest. A clinician using specially instrumented gloves moved their hands to teleoperate the remote vest. Through hand-gestures, the specialist would trigger the inflation or deflation of pneumatic cells on the vest to simulate a hands-on-body examination. So far, so good.

Irony: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

However, getting a healthcare product into the market requires enormous time and effort. Not content to fritter away the months and years while his patent for the telemedicine system worked it’s way through the health care bureaucracy, he turned to his brother who worked at a VP of Sales & Marketing at a gaming company. Together, they re-implemented the idea (with some interesting modifications) as a force-feedback device for first-person shooter games.

Click above to watch a geek get capped

The telehealth vest was altered so that it works with popular PC-based video games of the shooting, driving, monster-killing variety.  The user puts the vest on together with an optional helmet and jacks into the control unit. The control unit connects to the PC. Then, when your character in an on-line game gets jostled, bumped or shot, you get a “pneumatic thump” to the appropriate area on your torso or head.

Bang, bang, thump, thump, you’re dead. 

What is interesting here is that a device that was originally intended to help care for people, has been subverted to one which simulates hurting people. The market is bigger and the commercial returns are likely better than the original idea.

The irony is delicious.