Healthcare challenge is child’s play for Leeds firm Dubit

The project team at Dubit's offices in Leeds.
The project team at Dubit's offices in Leeds.

Leeds research firm and digital studio Dubit is putting its know-how to the best possible use by providing a high-tech tonic for children visiting hospital.

Dubit has won funding from the Innovate UK agency to develop a digital play kit aimed at youngsters who are preparing to have an MRI scan.

At present, kids aged under 10 are often given a general anaesthetic to keep them still while they are inside the scanner.

The scanning work itself is also extremely noisy, which can cause concern for youngsters and their parents.

Dubit’s play kit will address those issues by handing children the chance to familiarise themselves at home with the MRI process via multiple digital platforms, including augmented reality and virtual reality (VR).

It is hoped the scheme will dramatically reduce the number of young patients who need to be given anaesthetic before they have their scans.

Dubit’s founder, Matthew Warneford, said: “The application of VR to kids’ education about MRI – and improving their visit – is a great example of how new technology can solve difficult problems.

“If we can get kids to ‘play’ with the sights and sounds of a toy MRI scanner in their homes – and experience the MRI through the eyes of their favourite teddy or doll – we can reduce the worry and distress around the real thing.”

The work should also ease pressure on NHS resources by lessening the need for hospital play specialists to spend time with children ahead of an MRI check.

Dubit chief executive Ian Douthwaite said: “We are excited to be able to apply all our experience in youth research, digital development and VR to such a critical challenge in child healthcare.

“We believe our expertise – together with partnerships across the UK – will produce something that will benefit the NHS and improve the lives of young people.

“This project allows Dubit to expand its research and digital work and establish a child healthcare department, which will work closely with the NHS and industry experts to launch a series of digital innovations over the coming months.”

Founded in 1999, Dubit today has 75 staff operating from its offices in Wellington Road’s Half Roundhouse building.

The company will be working on the play kit project over the next 18 months, leading a team that includes Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the Royal College of Art, the University of Sheffield and the Glasgow School of Art.

Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice, senior research manager at Dubit, said: “It is exciting to have the opportunity to apply all that we know about children’s digital play to an area that will help their health.

“Dubit’s research has great insight into what kinds of gaming aesthetics and mechanics appeal to children.

“We have also a close working relationship with one of our partners, Penny Curtis, Professor of Child Health at the University of Sheffield, and we have had many conversations about how this knowledge could be applied to make better digital products for children in hospital.

“It has been shown that digital games can be informative and helpful for child health, but we want them to look good and be super fun, and this is one of the key aims of the project.”