Using VR to Creatively Enhance Biofeedback Treatments

Clinical biofeedback has proven to be an effective way of treating anxiety, depression, and other disorders, and VR could help that even more by providing further immersive biofeedback visualizations. Scientific literature have shown that using tools such as temperature monitors and heart rate monitors to display a patient’s bodily functions in hopes of training patients to control these functions has helped the patient alleviate many of these disorders through repeated practice. Furthermore, a study done by the psychology department of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore showed that adding VR tools to this treatment helped patients better and faster learn relaxation techniques, resulting in more effective treatment.

These findings caught our attention, and as aspiring VR developers, we wanted to take biofeedback and enhance it creatively and effectively using the new paradigms of user-interaction and immersion that VR introduces. In Fall of 2018, we began forming a team to work with SDKs for EEGs and ECGs that integrate into the Unity game engine. With a combination of students with backgrounds in animation, VR development, and machine learning, we developed a minimal viable product, a VR game that utilizes the users’ EEG brain waves as a mode of control. The MVP currently works with the Oculus Rift, and uses the Muse headband, a highly portable consumer EEG device, to achieve these mappings.

Throughout repeated testing, we have demonstrated progress at showcase events to gain additional feedback from users and learn about current bugs within our product. Our team plans to collaborate with Berkeley’s Psychology department to gain expertise, to develop user testing, and to carry out studies to collect preliminary user data regarding Biofeedback VR. We are also interested in contacting companies and biofeedback practitioners that are working on or are interested in Biofeedback in VR to further enhance our existing working minimum viable product.

A snapshot of our MVP, which utilizes users’ EEG data to control the tilt of a watering can in order to water a growing flower.

After collecting user data, we would like to utilize our findings to integrate potential additions, such as mapping data to spatial audio from multiple sources, affecting how fast time passes in a virtual environment, and bodily functions through the use of fireworks. As the application evolves and becomes more effective and polished, our team would also love to make a consumer-friendly version of the application that could run on not only Oculus Rift/HTC Vive, but also mobile phones in VR or in AR. Although these goals require further development, they could be important steps to take as a consumer application could help people who aren’t comfortable going through clinical treatment with their mental and physical issues.

Written by Joshua Yang and Shreya Sudarshana, team leads of VR at Berkeley’s Biofeedback VR team.