Ideas from Aarhus – Vol. III: Åte VR

If the words ‘virtual reality’ ring a bell, you‘re most likely thinking of futuristic looking headsets, which makes the wearer look like something out of sci-fi movie. You might also think of games and entertainment, with virtual worlds transporting you into space or prehistoric worlds.

However, this is not the whole story when it comes to the wonder of virtual reality, and it’s definitely not the goal VR company, Åte VR, has on the new technology. Instead of  delivering pure entertainment the company’s founder, Ege Jespersen, has a different goal: “When people hear the words ‘virtual reality’ they think of escapism or shooting zombies, but I wanted to use the technology to help as many people as possible have a healthier life.”

So far, the combination of health-focused philosophy and VR technology have benefitted patients in physiotherapy and neuro habilitation. They use Åte VR’s technologies to improve their mobility. The company’s latest project, however, has taken the healthier-life-approach to a completely different target audience: Children with multiple disabilities.

“The new project started when I bumped into an old school friend at a party”, Ege says. “We started talking about her internship as a caretaker at Fenrishus a kindergarten for children with multiple disabilities. I was looking for new ways to approach VR as a healthcare tool, and this seemed like the perfect match.”

The finished product is virtual world inspired by sensory rooms, also known as a Snoezelen rooms. By using the virtual reality glasses, the children interact with shapes and colors, which respond to head- and eye movements. But developing the virtual sensory room also proved to be a challenge:

“When you build a product you usually get feedback directly from the users, but in this case, it’s impossible because the children don’t have control of their own body movements and voice. That’s why we had to go with a more unusual approach: We collaborated with the staff at Fenrishus. They know the children really well, so in a way, they acted as ‘interpreters’ of the children’s body language and reactions to the virtual room. As snoezelen room experts they also gave us advice on how to create the virtual world. They told us e.g. that the children react very positively to yellow colors, so we made sure to add a lot of yellow nuances to the colour palette.”

The virtual snoezelen room by Åte VR has so far received high praises from both staff and parents at Fenrishus, and soon a broader audience can download the snoezelen room as an app. Ege Jespersen has high hopes for the future of the new virtual snoezelen room in terms new uses: “We are looking forward to seeing what benefits it has when used by children with ADHD and people with dementia,” he says. And while the Snoezelen room therapy is not yet a well-known phenomenon in Denmark, it’s more common practice in Germany.

“That’s why the next big dream is to explore markets abroad”, he says.

Written by: Marianne Højgaard