Pushing the Boundaries of VR

Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium on March 5–6 at the Harvard Medical School, will provide an overview of how the coming wave of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology will impact medicine, clinical care, and personal health and wellness. Having been invited to speak on an investment panel, I’m excited and energized to hear the latest updates from the attendees and speakers — some of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs, doctors, and companies integrating VR into our culture. I have researched several investments in this area, and have observed how some of our portfolio companies are exploring how to integrate VR into their service offerings.

As a participant in several conferences, I’ve had interesting experiences with VR. I’ve tested VR applications supporting meditation and mindful practices, overcoming phobias, being taught by a VR teacher, and shifting focus as a way to reduce pain. One of our companies, Interaxon, has demoed a technology integrating electroencephalogram (EEG) so that you can partially control a VR experience using your mind. While I’m not considering buying VR hardware for my personal use, I am convinced it is becoming increasingly valuable as a tool used in various distribution systems — movie theaters, entertainment facilities, doctors offices, recovery centers, hospitals, and nursing homes.

One such effort is coming out of USC’s Innovation Lab, which assists people in becoming more empathetic and compassionate towards the suffering of others. Although entertainment, social connection, and gaming will drive the initial adoption of VR and AR technology, the deepest and most significant impact of the next generation of VR/AR technology will be to enhance clinical care and to improve personal health and wellness. VR and AR technology will also help facilitate the shift of medicine to direct personal care. While seeing practical benefits that keep me curious, we have not made a specific investment in this field yet.

As Bridge Builders Collaborative considers VR and how it can help in the mind-training field, I am observing:

1. Will VR become ubiquitous? As VR continues to envelop our culture, I see significant benefits of use in segments of the population with particular needs or conditions. Will VR be used as a mind-training tool to support treatment or healing within those populations?

2. What type of companies will be the long winners in the VR space? Will it be the hardware companies, content creators, or other companies that integrate VR into larger platforms.

3. What is an ownable investment thesis regarding VR? First, I wonder whether existing companies will just integrate content in their offerings or if whole content companies will form who dominate the ecosystem.

Dr. Walter Greenleaf of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab is an innovative leader in this field. According to Dr. Greenleaf, “We know from decades of clinical research that VR/AR technology can provide breakthrough solutions that address the most difficult problems in healthcare — ranging from mood disorders such as Anxiety and Depression to PTSD, Addictions, Autism, Cognitive Aging, Stroke Recovery and Physical Rehabilitation, to name just a few.” At the upcoming Symposium at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Greenleaf and his colleagues are assembling leaders pushing the boundaries of applied VR within healthcare to help fuel collaboration, exploration, and discussion.

I’m curious about others’ experience with VR and how you see it impacting physical or mental health. Please share your insights.


Learn more about Charlie at ShiftIt Institute and check out Bridge Builders Collaborative partners and portfolio. Follow Charlie on LinkedIn and Twitter @ShiftIt_Inst.