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Major Takeaways:

  • Rothenberg Ventures‘ VR incubator, River, was launched with the goal of advancing the state of virtual reality by providing VR startups with office space plus $100,000 in seed funding
  • In fields like pain management, physical rehabilitation and the treatment of anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress, VR is coming into its own
  • Psious, a member of the River incubator, is working to treat anxiety disorders through a VR version of exposure therapy
  • The proliferation of more affordable VR headsets is leading to more accessible VR treatment for anxiety and related medical conditions

From the Wired article:

THE PLANE ALREADY was convulsing by the time the “please fasten seatbelt” sign came on. Dark, foreboding clouds filled the sky. We must have been flying right into a storm. All I could think of was that opening scene in Lost where the plane splits in half.

We rode out the turbulence and made an uneventful landing. As the plane came to a stop on the tarmac, I pulled off my goggles, and the virtual world of the cabin disappeared. I was in a conference room in the offices of River, a startup incubator in San Francisco’s SoMa district, miles from the airport.

River was launched earlier this year by venture capital Rothenberg Ventures with the goal of advancing the state of virtual reality by providing VR startups with office space plus $100,000 in seed funding. In those offices you’ll find hardware hackers working on a new VR headsets and 3D cameras, filmmakers creating lush, interactive digital movies, and developers building the “Ticketmaster for VR events.” But most importantly, you’ll find VR designers hard at work helping people solve real-world problems today.

And not just “problems” in the sense that too many startups mean as they try to monetize a solution to a minor inconvenience. For years, virtual reality has made inroads in helping to treat serious phobias, post-traumatic stress, and burn victims’ pain. Now, as the price of VR tech plummets, this therapeutic tech is advancing—and could soon become available to many more people who need it.

More Than Entertainment

Since Facebook acquired VR company Oculus last year, we’ve heard a lot about the potential for virtual reality totransform the economy by revitalizing consumer entertainment, social media, shopping, education, and travel. We’ve speculated about what the killer app for VR might be, or whether it even needs one. Less has been said about the progress VR has already made as a tool for healing. In fields like pain management, physical rehabilitation and the treatment of anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress, VR is coming into its own. And thanks to the recent emergence of affordable consumer VR rigs like Samsung Gear VR, patients may finally be able to take advantage of technology that’s been inaccessible to the larger public for two decades.

For example, the airline simulation I experienced—created by River company Psious—is a virtual reality version of exposure therapy, an approach to treating anxiety disorders such as phobias and post traumatic stress disorder. The idea is to gradually expose someone to the source of their anxiety—flying, for example—in a safe setting in a way that enables them to face that fear in the real world later. The company offers several other simulators, including ones to help with arachnophobia, fear of needles, claustrophobia, and public speaking.

The simulations aren’t perfectly immersive—it’s obvious you’re in a computer-generated world when wearing a headset—but studies have found VR to be more effective at treating some phobias than traditional exposure methods like mental visualization or photographs. The problem is that historically, VR systems have cost tens of thousands of dollars, making such therapy available to a small percentage of people. Psious, however, is now able to sell a bundle of hardware—including a Homido headset, a smart phone and a haptic feedback device—for $300. “We haven’t invented anything,” Psious co-founder Dani Roig acknowledges. “We just democratized these kind of treatments.”

Head to Wired to read the rest.