Researchers are hoping virtual reality (VR) technology could become a drug-free tool to reduce pain and anxiety in chronically ill children.
Melbourne tech start-up Phoria is working with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Melbourne Zoo to design a VR experience for kids in hospital.
The trial is tapping into the benefits of animal-assisted therapy by delivering a virtual excursion to the zoo for 80 patients at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
Trent Clews-de Castella from Phoria said it was about giving kids a break from the hospital setting.
“I find it a little bit crazy that we, kids in this example, go into these hospital environments, and we think about how much we are impacted by our environment and it doesn’t really seem conducive to the recovery process,” he said.
Animal-assisted therapy is not new, but bringing animals into hospitals is impractical and risky in terms of hygiene and infection, Mr Clews-de Castella said.
“It’s really exciting to actually still harness and capture the essence of that sort of interaction that you will have with the animal, but then scale it and overcome a lot of those hurdles that we currently face with these existing therapeutic treatments,” he said.
The project involved the team at Phoria capturing 360-degree video using a multi-camera rig, both on a monopod and a robotic rover, so the patients could be immersed in the experience.
‘It’d be really awesome’
Axl Uittenbosch-Moore experiences the virtual reality zoo while Trent Clews-de Castella watches on. (ABC News)
Axl Uittenbosch-Moore, 11, is one of the first kids to try the VR therapy.
He was diagnosed with a tissue cancer in his sinus in September 2015, and had to undergo months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“It was quite boring. Just had to watch TV, read my book, go to sleep,” he said.
Axl is now on the mend but said he would have loved more distractions to take his mind off his illness. He said other kids in hospital would feel the same.
“It’d be really awesome, a nice experience. Wouldn’t feel like they’re in bed all the time.”
Mr Clews-de Castella hopes it will become a drug-free tool to manage pain and anxiety.
“From what I’ve seen, from my own observation, is just this new sort of excitement and enthusiasm. We have a whole new world now that we can explore through these new tools.”