Innovator Spotlight: Yvonne Trethart

She’s using her animation skills to level-up rehabilitative medicine and training.


Yvonne Trethart is part of a team bringing anatomy, clinical training and rehabilitative exercises to (virtual) life at the U of A’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine — from creating 3D interactive models of spines and cells to developing a virtual-reality program to train dental students in anesthesia skills.

In this week’s Innovator Spotlight, Yvonne shares how communication leads to great ideas.

How do you describe your work to people who don’t work in your field?

I work with a great team called Cognitive Projections within the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab to create virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications. These apps assist with anything including rehabilitation, mental and physical wellness, job or school training in an enjoyable and interactive way.

As the Lead 3D VR Artist, I create the animations, design and build characters and the environments, script interactions and develop the stories for the non-player characters. I also oversee the audio and visual recordings that the programmers use for the training of artificial intelligences, which adds human-like responses for a better experience when people use the app.

What’s one big problem you want to solve through your work?

I would like to normalize VR/AR technologies as teaching and healthcare tools. Doing so will create an avenue for further innovation in training and care.

What does the word “innovation” mean to you?

Innovation to me is developing something new with the latest technological advances, or creating new technology. I was recently part of NSERC SMART CREATE’s Entrepreneurship Workshop. We were separated into a handful of teams and we each worked on a project that would facilitate a person’s life or wellbeing. Innovation was key from building a company to getting a safe new product into customers hands. We needed new ideas, a mix of current and new tech, many experts in many fields and a team with an eclectic skills set. Here at the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab, we encompass all those.

How do you or your team come up with your best ideas? 

To get creative sparks flying our team focuses on great communication. We have brainstorming sessions with both the experts and within our team where all ideas are welcomed. From those, a light bulb can go off from a random comment or from analyzing what is needed and discussing hurdles and solutions.

What’s your favourite thing about working at the U of A?

I like being able to walk the campus during any season. It recharges my creativity to take a break from my computer and see nature and lots of art within the buildings and on the grounds. Also, having many places to get a cup of coffee and freshly baked goods is wonderful.

Do you have a role model at the U of A? How have they influenced you?

Although it was difficult to narrow it down, my biggest influence is Dr. Nathanial Maeda, a U of A postdoctoral fellow and the team’s technical director of operations. He fosters a work environment for collaboration and effective communication without hindering creativity. I’ve learned lots about leadership, presentations, work ethic, and networking while working as part of his team.

What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

There are many projects coming out soon and I’m excited to see two of them in their respective clinical settings at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. One of them targets increasing patient adherence with rehabilitation for people with acquired brain injury. The other focuses on the recovery of speech-language pathology through clinically approved vocal exercises. It was fascinating to practice the exercises myself while working on them, so much so that my kids wanted to try them out because I was having too much fun.

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Innovator Spotlight is a weekly feature that introduces you to a faculty or staff member whose big ideas are making a big difference.

Do you know someone who’s breaking boundaries at the U of A? (Maybe it’s you!) We’re interested in hearing from people who are creating new solutions to make our world better. We want to feature people working across all disciplines, whether they’re championing bold ways of thinking, driving discovery or translating insights from the lab into the market. 

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