What’s Next In VR? Southeast Entrepreneurs Use Tech To Boost Wellness

From gaming to entertainment to training, Georgia companies have been pushing VR/AR space forward over the years. 

Now, two different Georgia universities are using VR to improve our health and wellness, which is estimated to be a $11 billion industry by 2026.

We heard from a Georgia Tech graduate commercializing a VR meditation program to address critical mental health gaps and from the team behind a SCAD initiative to help those going through hospice care.  

 

ZenVR: Making Meditation and Mental Health More Accessible

One Create-X startup is taking a “zen” approach while entering the fast-moving VR space.

Matthew Golino earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgia Tech, and worked previously as a software engineer for General Motors. During this classwork in the HCI program, he tells Hypepotamus that his interest in “VR as an emerging medium converged” with his experience in meditation.

Meditation, he says, became a more central part of his life during his graduate work. Throughout the course of his thesis, Golino conducted research with expert and novice meditators alike on a quest to better understand how the practice of meditation is both taught and learned. 

The result was eight meditation lessons taught completely through VR, aptly named ZenVR

15 Georgia Tech students used the VR technology and educational modules during the prototyping phase. 

“We had participants come in twice a week for 20 to 30 minute long meditation classes in VR. And by the end of the 6-week study, we were seeing these statistically significant increases in a number of mental health metrics. A lot of master’s projects kind of end there…but given my personal interest, it was my belief that this could make an impact.

After transforming the academic project into a startup with the help of the Create-X program, the ZenVR team has spent the last year turning their prototype into a full-fledged VR app. They have since been accepted into the Oculus Start Program, launched and trialed a beta version of their app with hundreds of users, and iterated on the virtual environment and overall usability. Most recently, the team received official approval from Oculus to launch their app on the Oculus Quest Store! ZenVR can now be downloaded here for the Oculus Quest VR headset.

A look inside ZenVR’s virtual environment

 

SCAD’s VRx Immersive Therapy: VR Tech For Good 

For Teri Yarbrow, Immersive Reality Professor at SCAD, a new VRx Immersive Therapy program on campus is a combination of academic and personal passions. 

I am a VR evangelist,” Yarbrow tells Hypepotamus. “I have been working with Hospice Savannah and the Steward Center of Palliative Care for more than two years. It began with a woman with stage 4 pancreatic cancer who wanted to skydive as a bucket-list request. She was too ill to skydive, so we brought her skydiving via VR. It was quite liberating for her as jumping out of a plane, and skydiving is a great metaphor for letting go and embracing the end-of-life experience.” 

As SCAD grew its BFA program in immersive reality, tangible applications took center stage. While students in the class were introduced to VR’s role in retail, architecture, fashion, gaming, and engineering, Yarbrow says students were particularly drawn to the medical opportunities. 

18 students on campus have been involved in the project as far, which harnesses VR to alleviate pain, reduce anxiety in patients, and provide positive engagement for hospice patients. SCAD has created three unique experiences: 

  • “Lumino,” a meditative experience set in a grassy forest clearing in the mountains lit by fireflies and the Northern Lights above
  • “Spirit of Africa,” a passive experience with interactive elements, meant for bed-ridden patients filled with vibrant colors and exotic animals
  • Feed the Birds,” a tranquil experience that encourages movement.

“Virtual reality has proven effective in reducing pain, anxiety, stress, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s and enhancing the quality of life. For those in palliative care or hospice who are bed-bound or confined to wheelchairs, this can be quite miraculous and life-enhancing. Our students visit patients at Hospice Savannah and Hospice Homecare. Based on the patient’s condition and specific requests, they implement VR experiences,” adds Yarbrow. 

Yarbow adds that she sees emerging opportunities to bring this technology out of the classroom even more. “The FDA has now validated immersive VR therapy with a designation: Medical Extended Reality, MRX. This will create many career opportunities. Our goal is for SCAD to be a leader in the emerging field of immersive health, and, armed with the understanding of all facets of the design process and professional experiences even before graduation, our students will be at the forefront of creating the next generation of immersive medical experiences.”

 

Get news like this delivered directly to your inbox by signing up for the Hypepotamus newsletter!