VR for Good

Increasingly, virtual reality technology is being used to address social and global issues

Virtual reality has obvious implications for the marketing world, with many brands using the technology to do everything from enhancing the in-store retail experience to offering test drives to prospective car buyers. Lately, more brands, organizations, and institutions are exploring VR’s potential beyond just convincing people to open up their wallets, instead utilizing it in ways that are more compassionate than consumerist.


In a recent campaign, Samsung set out to connect with Millennials by speaking to their generational desire for interesting life experiences. The tech company ran an experiment, called “Be Fearless,” in which 27 participants from around the world underwent four weeks of virtual reality training to combat specific fears. For example, a fashion designer conquers her public speaking phobia so she can pitch her business to investors; an aspiring pilot addresses his extreme fear of heights; and an active traveler overcomes his own acrophobia. After two weeks in the program, nearly 88% of acrophobic subjects saw an average anxiety reduction of 23.6%, while glossophobic participants enjoyed a nearly 20% reduction in anxiety levels. 


Five years after Japan was hit by one of the most catastrophic tsunamis it had ever seen, the country is now taking steps to prepare its citizens for the likelihood of future natural disasters. The Aichi University of Technology developed a virtual reality tsunami simulator, for the Oculus Rift, that places viewers behind the wheel of a car in a city that’s just been destroyed by a tsunami. Wave movements and collision predictors are programmed into the experience, which is set in three distinct locations. Developers analyzed video footage retrieved from car-mounted cameras during 2011’s disaster and also spoke with survivors in order to ensure accuracy.


Expedia partnered with St. Jude Children’s Hospital to give children battling illnesses the unexpected (and seemingly impossible) gift of travel. Through the Dream Adventures initiative, the hospital and travel booking platform installed a virtual travel room where—with the help of a 360-degree camera, interactive live-streaming technology, and projection screens on all walls (the floor and ceiling, too)—patients undergoing cancer treatment can “visit” exotic locales. During a recent virtual trip to Patagonia, on-site guides held up cameras, allowing the children to enjoy the tour. Through the initiative, the kids have been able to enjoy a wide range of exciting virtual activities, including scuba diving, jungle exploration, and fossil digging.