Innovation - Augmented Reality

Bringing Augmented Reality to Scientific Posters

May 12, 2015

For decades, scientific posters have remained essentially unchanged. Despite being a core part of all medical meetings and research conferences, typical posters are limited in the types and amount of content that can be presented, with visitors limited to reviewing text on a poster board and asking questions about the experiments and conclusions. While the content and insights might be revolutionary, the use of posters, from a technology standpoint, is still at version 1.0.  

This, of course, is not reflective of the advances in information technology (IT) within life sciences companies. The role for technologists has become increasingly important and visible as we work to harness insights from data to support research and patients – and also as business requirements evolve, demanding a greater need for experts in data science, digital health technology, enterprise and business architecture, infrastructure, applications and development. The opportunity to innovate – while making a real impact on the lives of patients with serious diseases – is helping us to draw talented and innovative technologists from all sectors with demand continuing to grow.        

With our company in the heart of Kendall Square and a stone’s throw from top technology companies and leading universities, Biogen’s technology and business solutions organization regularly hosts “hackathons” at which individuals from our IT group come together with leaders from internal business units and developers from outside the company. The objective of these events is to look for new ways to leverage technology in order to solve problems or realize opportunities.

One idea that quickly gained traction following one such event was to transform the run-of-the-mill scientific poster into an engaging, interactive experience through the use of augmented reality – essentially adding digital content to the physical experience of viewing posters. Cameras on iPads would be used to simultaneously access content like videos, web links and 3D images, providing users the ability further explore and gain a deeper understanding of poster content.

In 2014 a cross-functional innovation team at Biogen, comprised of members from IT, and our experimental medicine, immunology and hematology groups quickly moved the concept forward, resulting in a new type of poster that was first displayed at the Gordon Research Conference on Hemostasis. This prototype included 120 interactive elements leveraging augmented reality and molecular visualization software. With this new approach, users would not have to take turns asking questions of a presenter but could instead instantly access a rich repository of supporting information stored in the cloud directly from iPads.

As opposed to being a static destination, the poster became a portal from which a viewer can take multiple paths to pursue additional research and insights -- an innovation that was recently recognized at both the Bio-IT World Expo, winning the grand prize in its 11th Annual Best Practices Awards competition, and at the 22nd Annual InformationWeek Conference for Business Technology Leaders at the end of April. At the InformationWeek Conference, Biogen was awarded two prestigious honors – including placement on IW’s Elite 100, an annual list of the most innovative users of business technology – and a Business Innovator finalist in the category of “Technology-Enabled New Product” for our augmented reality scientific poster.

Our initial effort was such a success that today nearly all groups across the company are looking to use augmented reality for poster presentations – and by the end of the year the technology should be available to all Biogen scientists.

While new technologies, advances in data analytics, wearables and other devices offer promise in supporting the development of new medicines and ways to measure the effectiveness of our therapies, how we use existing technologies to transform the experience of explaining our research will also have a meaningful impact – and innovation, regardless of where it emerges, will create opportunities to transform how we see the future.

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