Step into my Virtual Reality

Blue Latitude Health|18th December 2014

This week, a group of us left the Blue Latitude office to go hang out with We Are Formation, an East London based production studio who specialise in Film and CG for digital, print and TV; so we could learn more about how Virtual Reality is fast becoming a part of our actual reality, especially where storytelling is concerned.

When you think of Virtual Reality, it's not uncommon to remember the 90s, with that bulky head gear and the expensive looking arcade games. It never really took off in a big way, and certainly wasn't accessible to consumers at an affordable price; however, the biggest issue VR faced back then was the inability to create realistic visuals, or find the hardware to support it.

Jon Reidy, Co-Founder of We Are Formation pointed out that although the virtual reality isn't new, it's taken some years for the hardware to catch-up with the concept in order to properly support the graphics and functionality. What's even more exciting is the fact that in 2015, we can expect virtual reality products to be rolled out to consumers in a big way, especially since the release of the Samsung Gear VR

I believe that this will change the way we talk to our customers, the way we play video games, the way we enjoy movies, and even how we watch online content. Mark Zuckerberg was right to snap up the Oculus Rift in a $2billion acquisition, don't be surprised when VR becomes integrated in the way we digitally network.



A VR experience made from cardboard?

Google Cardboard is a brilliant example of consumer-driven VR. Before experiencing it for myself, it would have been inconceivable to me that I could wear a pair of goggles made from a cardboard box and have a virtual reality experience through them. However there I was, stood in the middle of We Are Formation's office riding a virtual roller-coaster using Google Cardboard and a smartphone. I also watched YouTube videos, using voice recognition to select menu changes and head movement to control and play... all through an old cardboard box!

It blows my mind that Google Cardboard is little more than just an old box, and it's certainly affordable at less than £20. All you need is your own smartphone and a VR app. It seems Android have more VR app options than Apple or Windows phone, but it wouldn't surprise me if this all changes in 2015. For now, I'll enjoy the VR roller-coaster app until Apple moves into this space, which I'm sure is imminent.

As novel and exciting as Google Cardboard is, it obviously doesn't compare to the Oculus Rift, and that's the real reason we were there, to experience an awesome virtual reality roller-coaster and chat about some of the work we've done with them for a client event.

Why VR? Why Now?

What's different now (rather than in the 90s) is we're able to create a virtual experience that provides a 360 degree digital landscape, made up of pretty much anything we want. Chatting to Emma, Junior Producer at We Are Formation, she explained how the creative half of the company use Autodesk Maya 3D animation software to model whatever it is they're building, then they switch over to Unity 3D to add light and texture, bringing the 3D model to life.

Essentially they're using video game design skills to create interactive experiences for customers, on behalf of a brand. Over 30% of their clients are medical or pharma companies, and VR is already being used to help in a number of areas, including:

  • Surgery training
  • Medical exams
  • Therapy
  • Mental Health treatments
  • Palliative care for permanently disabled or terminally ill patients

Virtual Reality at Events

Seeing how VR is being used during events to educate and inform people is interesting and inspiring. A good example that I've read about is the Novo Nordisk VR game called Diabetes Voyager, which they launched at the Diabetes UK Conference in Liverpool. Utilising the technology of the Oculus Rift paired with Microsoft Kinect, players are immersed in an interactive experience, in which they complete three missions vital to the successful treatment of type 2 diabetes. By using a combination of Microsoft Kinect and Oculus Rift, Diabetes Voyager provides an innovative 3D and interactive view of the body. The missions require the player to move their arms or head to complete tasks within the VR environment, set by DIVA, the Diabetes Voyager Assistant.

We're no strangers to using Virtual Reality technology with our own clients. A recent internal training event for one of our major clients was a huge success as we used the Oculus Rift to present the new brand messaging to key stakeholders within the company.

Virtual Reality as a treatment option

Where I can see the real benefit of VR, above and beyond capitalising on the novelty factor for brands and games, is how it is being used as part of Anxiety Management treatment. Anxiety is a common mental health problem, according to statistics published by the Mental Health Foundation, it affects around 1 in 6 people in the UK each year. Studies have shown that that virtual reality therapy can be as effective (and in some cases more effective) as in-vivo exposure for conditions such as:

  • Acrophobia
  • Arachnophobia
  • Claustrophobia
  • Agoraphobia
  • Panic Attacks

3D platforms for Virtual Reality based treatments, such as PsyTech's AMVR platforms, are already seeing success in this area. It's inevitable that virtual environments for treatment of other conditions are sure to follow as VR technology becomes commonplace in Psychologist and Psychiatrist offices, especially as it offers an affordable and convenient alternative treatment option for patients.  

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