Gig Tank company Rendever uses virtual reality to bring the world to elders
The buzz around virtual reality has been changing. The potential and the prototypes have been around for decades, but the chatter has evolved from the technology itself—how the experience can be made more real or the hardware more wearable, say—to the enormity of its impact.
In the May issue of Wired, Kevin Kelly takes a deep dive into virtual reality and its state-of-the-moment. Although widespread commercial rollout hasn’t happened yet, he sees virtual reality poised to change the media landscape at least as much as the worldwide web did 20 years ago. What the web did for information, virtual reality will do for experiences. Kelly envisions “a Wikipedia of experiences, potentially available to anyone, anywhere, any time.”
Some big companies and investors agree. Facebook bought one of the most promising VR companies, Oculus Rift, for $2 billion in 2014. The newest star, Magic Leap, has gotten $1.4 billion of investment before even releasing a beta version.
One of this year’s summer Gig Tank companies, Rendever, plans to surf the VR tsunami by mastering its application to a very specific market: elderly people living in long-term care communities.
“We’re building a virtuality platform to address issues of isolation, depression and cognition in long-term care communities,” says Dennis Lally. He and cofounder Reed Hayes are both MIT Sloan School of Management grad students. “Using this technology that can transport people elsewhere, we’re expanding the worlds of these residents that live in these communities.”
The company has developed a proprietary VR platform tailored to the needs of their elderly target market. The founders are working with content partners to develop travel programming and are talking to healthcare providers, including Massachusetts General Hospital, about developing VR programs to deliver therapeutic or diagnostic applications.
Another proprietary app in development will allow an elderly person to walk through a virtual version of their old neighborhood based on Google Street View data.
“I think one of things we’re doing that is most impactful is connecting them with family members. We’re building technology that allows people to film in VR using consumer cameras” to capture events an elderly person can’t travel to, from daily moments like breakfast or a goodnight hug to milestones like weddings and birthday parties. “We can upload that to the headset in the community for the older adults to see.”
Rendever is developing a user interface designed to make VR more intuitive for its elderly users.
“If you were to go buy virtual reality technology right now you’d be able to find some pieces of content here and there, but it’s not completely intuitive,” says Lally. “So we’re building a platform that allows this population to use and benefit from it.”
The company is building its software on the Android platform and currently planning to use Samsung headsets, although its software will be compatible with any Android VR device, such as the VR headset Google just announced it is building.
Rendever will provide headsets to client communities, which Lally compares to companies offering iPad applications to specific audiences.
“You could ask the same question: Why are they buying an iPad from a company when they could buy their own? Well, it’s because the company built software on the iPad that the community can use,” he says. “We’re creating these family experiences. That’s our software that allows them to connect with family. That’s not something that the facility would be able to do on their own.”
Google may be developing its own VR app using Street View data, for example. “Ours is voice commanded, so it ties back into the user interface and user experience. Ours is a little bit different from what they’re offering to the broader market.”
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic website in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com
Photo courtesy Rendever