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Virtually Unlimited: Three Companies Push VR Into New Areas

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Those clinical successes led Hollander and Howard Rose, another HIT Lab researcher, to create Firsthand Technology, with the goal of bringing their work into the real world. In 2014, Hollander and Rose founded DeepStream VR, which offers more advanced interactive worlds for healthcare. The application Cool is meant to be more attractive to users in their homes than SnowWorld was. Cool includes multiple environments, adorable otters, and lots of elements for interaction. The company’s newest application, Glow, uses a sensor to monitor the user’s heart rate. As the user relaxes, fireflies appear. When the user gathers enough of them, lanterns drift out of the forest. The fireflies fill the lanterns and then float away.

“In 25 years of doing VR work, this is the first time that I felt like a virtual world was reading my mind,” Hollander says. “Here I was doing something that was not a physical action, trying to relax and calm myself, and the world responds in this exciting way where all of a sudden these fireflies start flowing toward you.”

The mechanism for how VR short-circuits pain isn’t well understood, but it may be that VR hijacks sensory channels that would otherwise be used to transmit pain responses and floods them with other signals. It doesn’t work for everyone, but tests show 60 percent–90 percent of patients with chronic pain experience relief. Those with the most pain seem to get the most benefit. What’s more, that relief lingers after the VR experience is over, lasting anywhere from 2 to 48 hours.

DeepStream VR software works with commercially available VR headsets, and the company sells to hospitals and individuals. It’s currently planning a Series A funding round. If all goes well, Hollander believes systems like his could help people with chronic pain avoid the downfalls of opioid medications, a common treatment.

“This is phenomenally useful,” Hollander says. “It’s been used with burn victims, it’s been used with cancer patients, it’s been used with battlefield casualties, and the kind of results that the research shows are pretty astonishing.”

Eon Sports VR

Like DeepStream VR, Eon Sports VR is far older than the current virtual reality trend. VR might just now be hitting the big time, but it hit the big leagues years ago.

Eon Sports is based in Kansas City, Mo., and is the sports division of Eon Reality, one of the country’s oldest VR companies. Eon Sports uses VR to train athletes at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels, with baseball and football applications. Its pro solutions are highly advanced: The iCube system it sells to MLB teams, for example, includes a 10-by-10-by-10-foot structure that the player stands inside, becoming immersed in a virtual playing environment.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” says Adam Pummill, vice president of operations and sales. “The software and the platform is our secret sauce, if you will. It’s what drives everything we do. Then, of course, from there you need equipment and all the bells and whistles. The software is where we hang our hat.”

Eon Sports doesn’t say that VR is better at sports training than real-world play—there’s no substitute to putting the work in, Pummill notes—but using its immersive tools helps players make progress in key areas in a short amount of time. Its youth and high school baseball solution, created with MVP Jason Giambi, helps increase strike zone awareness, for example. Players watch various pitches come in and decide if they’re strikes or balls, and they also identify each type of pitch.

“We have a bunch of former coaches in our company, and they will be the first to tell you what we are doing is looking for a competitive edge or advantage to supplement training,” Pummill says. “At the higher levels, it can be highly customized to the exact person they are facing.”

For contractual reasons, Eon Sports can’t say how many MLB teams use its solutions; it notes only that fewer than half of them do. However, the Tampa Bay Rays have spoken publicly about using iCube. “It’s pretty awesome,” outfielder Steven Souza Jr. told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think anytime you can see a pitcher before you actually get in there, it’s unbelievable. It’s like standing in the bullpen.” (Third baseman Evan Longoria was less positive, calling the system “kind of crude” and saying, “I just don’t know that it’s there yet.”)

Eon Sports also works with several NFL, Pac12, Big Ten, and ACC teams. The company seems popular in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also spoken to the press about it. The Buccaneers use Eon’s SideKiq football simulator.

Eon Sports solutions uses a proprietary headset that connects to standard smartphones. Pummill says 95 percent of today’s phones work with it. iCube requires professional installation and instruction, but it is easy to operate afterward.

While many people use VR to play video games, the people training with Eon Sports solutions use VR to play real-world games better. In a highly competitive environment, every bit helps.

This article originally ran in the July/August 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Virtually Unlimited: Three Companies Push VR Into New Areas.”

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