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A San Antonio Innovation Uses Augmented Reality To Train First Responders

University of Texas at San Antonio computer scientists have teamed up with medical professionals to create a new kind of training system, using technology called augmented reality.

Paramedics, firefighters, even some police officers train for medical emergencies. Realistic mannequins can cost up to $100,000.


Now, some San Antonio doctors and computer experts have come up with a system they say is portable, realistic and affordable. It’s called PerSim.

"Instead of telling people what to look for in slides or lectures or books, we can actually show them," said emergency physician Hector Caraballo, MD. "So when they actually see it in real life, they’re prepared to act and they know what to do."

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
The HoloLens creates a three dimensional moving animated patient on top of the actual surroundings.


The trainee straps on a Microsoft HoloLens which looks like those virtual reality gaming headsets.

UTSA computer scientist John Quarlessays this is different. "It’s basically a computer that sits on your head," he explained. "You can see the real world except there are also 3D computer graphics that are shown on top of the real world as if they were really there."

A computer tablet calls up scenarios and overlays animation of a moving, suffering person.

"They can start turning blue. They can start sweating," Quarles explained. "They can talk to you and they can say ‘Ah, I’m having trouble breathing. I can’t breathe.’"

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
UTSA graduate student Sohail Baig, UTSA computer scientist John Quarles and emergency physician Hector Caraballo, MD, have been working on the PerSim project for about a year.


The program can simulate respiratory distress, chest pain, seizure, stroke and abdominal pain.

The creators have started a company and they plan on commercializing PerSim in September. 

Wendy Rigby is a San Antonio native who has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. She spent two decades at KENS-TV covering health and medical news. Now, she brings her considerable background, experience and passion to Texas Public Radio.