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Tech / Innovation

5 Ways Virtual Reality Saves Lives

May 12th isn’t a date that many celebrate, but on that day 196 years ago, a woman was borne who has made an incalculable difference to all our lives. Florence Nightingale, aka “The Lady with the Lamp,” was a pioneering nurse, writer and statistician; the founder of modern nursing and a social reformer. Through her observations and documentation, the casual relationship between sanitary conditions and healing was recognised and accepted. The Lady with the Lamp has literally saved billions of lives.


VR is the latest cool bit of kit in town, and brands feel obligated to adopt it immediately, whether its right for them or not. According to the Virtual Reality Brand Power Index, 75% of Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands have ongoing virtual or augmented reality projects. Customer interest is definitely there; Facebook’s testing of 360° videos has generated more than 1 million views a day.

Right now though, most brands are relying heavily on motion, or on taking audiences to places that they can’t get to easily in real life, such as racing around a Formula 1 race track, or getting a taste of what your dream vacation is like before booking your ticket, or what it’s like to be an astronaut on Mars, or simply standing next to your favourite musician at a live concert.

For now, people are impressed by the very fact that they can look around a 360° video, regardless of what they’re actually seeing or experiencing. But the next few years will see us enter a new era of immersive experiences that have the potential to bring your brand to life virtually for your customers.

To quote interactive storyteller Chris Milk, the world’s most effective “empathy machine” has the power to do so much more. It has the potential to transform marketing by creating emotionally led, immersive brand experiences and connections. Think what you could do with a little thought, imagination, and a dash of magic after viewing these 5 ways that VR, much like like Florence, literally saving lives.

1) SnowWorld – reducing pain in burn victims


Scientists at the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center have developed SnowWorld, an innovative VR game that distracts burn victims during painful wound care procedures with a glacial world. The game transports them to an icy canyon populated by snowmen, igloos, penguins, mammoths and fish, with the patient throwing snowballs at them with the click of a mouse. While the patient is in this virtual world, clinical trials have shown dramatic reductions in both pain and anxiety.

2) The Virtual Reality Cave – helping drug and alcohol rehabilitation

Researchers at the University of Houston have created The Virtual Reality Cave, a rehabilitation programme designed for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. Early recovery is the most challenging phase of an addict’s rehabilitation, as they learn new coping mechanisms to avoid future temptations. Patients are immersed in the VR Cave and exposed to various tempting situations and previous influential characters. The idea is for the recovering addicts to crave virtual drugs or alcohol, and then actively choose not to use them. This provides a more realistic environment than the traditional role playing, evoking more natural reactions, which assists doctors in creating more effective coping strategies.

3) Gaming for Peace – teaching peacekeeping skills


An EU-wide consortium led by a research team from Trinity College, Dublin is developing  ‘Gaming for Peace,’ a new VR role-playing game designed to train international police and military personnel in peacekeeping skills such as communication, cultural sensitivity and gender awareness. Using avatars, players will role-play as themselves as well as a myriad of different characters, in order to experience a variety of conflict zone scenarios from a range of different perspectives. Gaming for Peace builds on the well-documented Proteus Effect, in which the behaviour of an individual changes to mimic their avatar.

Gaming for Peace is expected to be completed by 2018, whereby all military, police and civilian personnel being deployed in EU conflict prevention and peacebuilding missions will receive training.

4) True3D – 3D medical visualisation software


US medical imaging device company EchoPixel has developed True3D, a virtual reality system which provides doctors with the ability to interact with what is pictured in 3D, such as a heart, as if it is a real physical object, using a hand-directed stylus. In clinical trials, some VR simulations reduced surgical planning time by 40% and increased surgical accuracy by 10%. This next generation product is targeted at not only surgeons and radiologists, but as an educational tool as well.

5) NFL VR internal training programme to address racial and domestic violence


Researchers at Stanford University believe they can tap the power of VR to conquer discrimination. “Feeling prejudice by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is what VR was made for,” says Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. And the US National Football League certainly hopes so.

Troubled by a number of high profile cases of domestic violence and racism from players and coaches in recent years, the NFL is in discussion with Stanford on how VR diversity-training scenarios could be used to train league employees and players. Considering the NFL’s stated goal of being the ‘Best Place to Work,’ let’s hope that the Proteus Effect works here too!


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