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Soft Skills, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

The Metaverse Needs Safe Spaces

I think we’ve all heard by now that Facebook has rebranded itself to “Meta.” What many of us have failed to realize, though, is the widespread implications of that. According to Mark Zuckerberg, society will use the metaverse to connect with family and friends, create their own homes, and invite people into it. Zuckerberg believes this will create “the feeling of presence: the defining quality of the metaverse.” Social VR is extremely valuable in this aspect – it’s a fun and exciting way to connect with people, especially in situations where you may be geographically too far to meet with someone in real life. You also have the ability to safely do activities that you may not be able to do in real life, such as extreme mountain biking, skydiving, off-roading, racing, or taking part in shooting games. However, with an increase in life-like realities, comes the ever-so-present threat of harassment. 

Just days after Meta released their platform “Horizon Worlds” to the public, many women came forward about their experiences with sexual harassment. In a recent Bloomberg article, a woman described that she didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, but “was uncomfortable, and there were no clear rules about etiquette and personal space.” Her entire experience seemed to be tainted by the imminent presence of griefers: people who disrupt others just to annoy them. Although there are numerous moderators to protect users from this behavior as well as harassment, it is a considerably difficult task to process a spoken language, visible gestures, and body language, rather than simply scanning a text online. 

In an effort to combat this, Meta offers a “Safe Zone”, but many users have not been informed of this feature, and thus do not have the ability to block their perpetrators.  Zuckerberg’s promise that “privacy and safety will be built into the metaverse from day one” seems to be falling short due to a lack of investment in user education. This isn’t a new problem by any means, though. According to the MIT Technology Review, this began as early as 2016 when a woman was harassed in a VR zombie game. She recalls, “There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching.” It may not seem like a big deal, but a recent beta tester of Horizon Worlds disagrees: “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense.” Researchers of online harassment assert that the fully immersive aspect of 3D environments “tricks the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3D environment,” which is why “VR triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”

So how does a platform that was built on the foundation of inclusivity and an ability to meet people of all different backgrounds can become a threatening place, full of discomfort for some? The common denominator between all of these incidents is unrestricted environments and an abuse of anonymity.

The good news is that the metaverse is larger than one company and the applications for VR for positive social interactions are game changing. Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and live simulations. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Industry News, Soft Skills, Therapy and Support

More Than Meets the Eye: Meta’s Haptic Glove

Virtual reality has traditionally been viewed as a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in computer-generated environments, giving them the opportunity to experience a vast number of scenarios and surroundings. Until recently, VR software only offered the ability to stimulate two senses: sight and sound. Various attachments have attempted to close this gap between fiction and reality by adding a smell or taste component, but the one sense that hasn’t been properly addressed, and is perhaps the most vital to addressing this gap, is touch. Enter: Meta’s haptic glove.

The haptic glove prototype offers the sensation of touching or holding objects in virtual reality. This is achieved with the help of hundreds of actuators – small inflatable motors that mimic the feeling of pressure. Meta is working to improve the functionality of this feature by enabling the glove to detect exactly where you are in a virtual field, how close you are in proximity to an object, as well as the physical properties of various objects. Meta Research Director Sean Keller believes in the large impact this will have: “We use our hands to communicate with others, to learn about the world, and to take action within it. We can take advantage of a lifetime of motor learning if we can bring full hand presence into AR and VR. People could touch, feel, and manipulate virtual objects just like real objects — all without having to learn a new way of interacting with the world.” 

Don’t get too excited though – this glove is years from being market ready. RL Research Process Engineer, Katherine Healy, addresses the manufacturing difficulties Meta is facing, considering the gloves are being individually assembled by skilled engineers. “We use semi-automated processes where we can, but manufacturing these gloves at scale will require the invention of new manufacturing processes,” Healy mentions. Despite these setbacks, VR technology is predicted to become widely accessible in coming years.

Haptic technology isn’t necessarily new to the market, it just hasn’t been widely available to the public, nor has it attracted the interest of people other than serious gamers or movie producers. It’s taken years for the public to welcome the idea that VR technology has more practical uses than just gaming or entertainment. 

Though initial applications may focus on gaming and hard skills training, areas like therapy and support, soft skills training, and real time collaboration will also benefit. With this glove, you’ll be able to realistically manipulate 3D product prototypes, shake hands while practicing mock job interviews, and make realistic, genuine connections with other people through the sensation of touch during therapy and support sessions. 

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform for therapy and support, soft skill training, and real time collaboration. We employ current technologies such as hand tracking and are constantly extending our capabilities to support the latest headsets and accessories. To learn more or schedule a demo, click here.

Mindfulness, Therapy and Support

The Benefits of Group Mindfulness in VR

Meditation’s popularity has grown more than three fold in the past decade and the pandemic has shed even more light on the practice as people struggle with depression, anxiety, and isolation. Though often done alone, a recent article from highlights several benefits of practicing mindfulness as a group. These include:

Motivation – “Organized group meditation provides an opportunity for those who might not practice alone to show up.”

Relatedness – “Having others present during a mindfulness session can boost our resolve and provide a sense of ‘we are in this together,’ especially when we are prone to distraction. “

Competence – “If the leader makes time for the group to discuss the challenges they face, each session can provide a valuable opportunity to share solutions.”

Autonomy – “While it may sound counterintuitive, mindfulness as a group may have fewer distractions and offer a more profound experience.”

But what about when you are not able to join other people in a group, particularly during a pandemic? Group mindfulness in Virtual Reality (VR) offers its own set of benefits over both in person and video sessions. These include:

Accessibility – VR allows individuals who may not want or may be unable to travel to participate in group sessions from anywhere in the world. This includes patients confined to hospital beds, people suffering from social anxiety, or those living in rural areas.

Anonymity – The virtual embodiment provided by avatars also provides anonymity for those who may not wish to reveal their identity or be on camera, particularly during discussion sessions.

Calming Environments – The sights and sounds within in VR can foster mindfulness and focus attention in ways that a meditator does not have to close his or her eyes and imagine.

Individualized Experiences – Even when participating in mindfulness exercises as a group, individuals can choose their own environment while still seeing others in the space. Additionally, biofeedback can provide individual indicators of stress level and other measures.

The Foretell Reality platform enables social VR experiences for mindfulness, social skills, and overall mental health including group therapy and support and addiction recovery. Click here to request a demo.


singing competition
Soft Skills, Therapy and Support

‘Alter Ego’ on Fox Highlights the Power of the Avatar

A new singing competition on Fox puts a twist on the ‘masked singer’ genre by using holographic avatars to hide the identities of the performers. The name of the show, ‘Alter Ego,’ is a cultural first in that it directly addresses issues of identity and highlights some of the reasons why a performer (and, by extension, anyone else) might want to embody an alternate being for a period of time.

In the trailer leading up to the first episode, there was a common theme among the performers. They weren’t hiding behind these avatars. Instead, they felt the avatars empowered them to excel and to not be judged by anything other than their abilities as a performer.

“How I look has held me back,” says a female vocalist in the trailer. “People always judge me by the way I look,” says another. A third explains, “having an alter ego helps me a lot in life.”

The avatars in ‘Alter Ego’ are fantastical. They have powers like the ability to levitate, transform out of glitter cloud, and direct a stream of emoticons at the judges. They are different colors, shapes, and genders. But the voices behind them are real and those voices may never have been heard without an avatar in front to give them the confidence to move forward.

‘Alter Ego’ is a high profile Hollywood example of how virtual embodiment can empower people to overcome their fears, but many other everyday use cases offer broader and more varied applications. In therapeutic settings, Avatars provide anonymity to those who may not otherwise seek out treatment. In group settings, avatars generate more open conversation, leveling the playing field in a world often structured around physical appearance. Role play with avatars offers opportunities to counter implicit bias or build soft skills like public speaking or negotiation. For those with physical ailments or confined to a hospital bed, avatars offer a chance to be free from the constraints of the real world for a period of time.

Rather than seeing avatars as an escape, ‘Alter Ego’ celebrates the power they bring to those behind them. In social virtual reality settings, avatars can also empower, teach, train, and transform in ways that are just now being more deeply explored.

Foretell Reality is a social virtual reality platform with customizable avatars for a variety of professional use cases including therapy and support and soft skills development. Interested in a demo? Click here.

North-Star care
Therapy and Support

Behavioral Health Business Highlights North Star Care and Foretell Reality VR Partnership

Among other topics, North Star Care CEO Amanda Wilson discusses the benefits that the anonymity in VR brings to AUD treatment in this recent article by in Behavioral Health Business.

“We thought that group treatment in a virtual space, where the person is represented as an avatar, would give people the freedom to both participate in the first place, if they were reticent, but also the ability to really speak freely … and feel very comfortable communicating in this space.”

Read More

3D Study
Soft Skills, Therapy and Support

Recent Study: 3D VR Environments Generate More Emotional Stimulation Than 2D

A recent study that compared emotional arousal in 2D and 3D VR environments “indicated that emotional stimulation was more intense in the 3D environment due to the improved perception of the environment; greater emotional arousal was generated; and higher beta (21–30 Hz) EEG power was identified in 3D than in 2D.”

Read More about this study here. Other VR research studies can be found here.

Therapy and Support

VR Allows Refugees to Return Home After Decades

One of the powers of VR is its ability to evoke powerful visceral feelings by transporting people to real or imagined places at any point in time. Unlike a flat screen, the viewer is enveloped in a living 360 scene with sounds and action occurring all around them.

There can be many different uses for leveraging this powerful medium (education, mental health, both hard and soft skill training), but a recent BBC story highlights one that shows the true breadth of how the technology can be leveraged.

The story centers on Project Dastaan, an endeavor co-founded by the grandson of one of the many migrants that was displaced during the violent partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Many families fled for their lives and have never returned to the places they left.

“But now, they can revisit those very places – the houses they left behind, the schools they dropped out of and even the people they thought the would never see again,” according to the projects founders.

Seeing the reaction of the refugees as the take in their VR surroundings shows the true power of the medium. “It was great, it was wonderful. I was feeling as if I had gone back to my childhood,” says one man.

Personalizing the 360 video experience in VR in ways that evoke a sense of presence is a powerful tool that has many use cases. Video of a childhood home, a particular room, a place someone used to visit, a walk someone used to take – these can all be brought back for the purposes of comforting, healing, and remembering.

The Foretell Reality VR platform offers a variety of capabilities and features including 360 video for one or more simultaneous viewers. Click here to schedule a demo.

Therapy and Support

How Virtual Reality (VR) Technology Can Improve Memory, Comprehension, and More

Since their discovery in the mid 1930’s, Theta Waves, which provide critical beats in your brain to help support your overall comprehension level and memory, have been of great interest to the mental health community. Nearly 70 years after their discovery, scientists may have found a way to boost these mental beats through the use of VR without the use of medication. 

A recent article by “Fast Company” discusses a recent study conducted by scientist Mayank Mehta that leveraged VR to mimic the same type of mental beats that Theta Waves produce using tiny VR headsets attached to mice. Mehta, who has conducted previous studies focused on VR and Theta Waves found in the past that the “frequencies (the pitch of some thoughts, not their rhythmic beats) are routinely slower in VR than in the real world.”

The mice that Mehta worked with in this experiments, which primarily focused on analyzing the mechanisms of the brain, were found to “experience boosted theta rhythms while in VR that they didn’t experience in the real world, even though the entire VR environment was meant to duplicate the mice’s real-world environment as closely as possible.” The overall cognition of the human brain is oddly improved when using virtual reality, and while Mehta and other scientists cannot yet pinpoint exactly why this is, they do believe that this could be a “huge breakthrough in how we treat mental health and cognition.”

In the next couple of weeks, Mehta will be publishing another paper focusing on the benefits of VR on cognition, and how there is no hidden consequence to advancing your theta rhythms through VR. 

Foretell Reality is a social virtual reality platform that supports different use cases including therapy and support, soft skills development, and business and design collaboration. Click here to schedule a demo.

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