Adapting VR for health and social care
Oculus Go and Quest are extraordinary. And transformative. Untethering VR from PCs and phones. But we find the nylon straps challenging for use in hospitals and care homes.
They feel optimised to be fitted once and used by the same young, healthy person for uninterrupted sessions. While in care facilities, headsets need to be frequently fitted and shared among multiple older or less able people – who will have shorter VR sessions and might need to ask or answer questions.
But VR shows so much potential in health and social care, from countering loneliness for older people to improving the gait of Parkinsons sufferers to relieving chronic pain. So we wanted to improve on the strap design and help make VR more accessible for those who deserve it most.
It started this winter when, with a small grant from Innovate UK, we were researching the potential of virtual visits for those in care homes. We found it challenging for some older or less physically able people to:
- Feel comfortable with something that looks so foreign
- Put the headset on their head if they have limited mobility
- Keep the headset in place if they have greasy hair (or no hair at all)
- Support the weight of the headset if they have a weaker neck
- Go in and out of VR mode without having to take the headset off
For carers and our team members, the headset could also be a challenge to:
- Adjust the head fit without taking them on and off the user repeatedly
- Optimise the distance from the eyes, particularly for those wearing glasses
- Keep them clean when sharing among multiple people
So we set about trying to adapt the headset for shared user in care facilities.
From interviews and testing sessions with older people – and those who care for them – my teammate, Victor, and I prioritised the biggest issues. We also brainstormed on other headgear that older people might recognise or already be familiar with.
Then we brainstormed a bunch of concepts, forgetting aesthetics and focusing most on weight distribution.
From the different concepts we chose four to prototype with the cheapest materials we could find and then field-tested them with older people.
We’re now 3D printing a concept that can snap into the Go and Quest – without interfering with the audio – and combines some benefits:
- More hygienic: all surfaces can be cleaned with a sanitary wipe.
- Less serious: we used our brand colours to make it look more inviting and less intimidating.
- Distributed weight: the firm headband distributes weight more evenly and takes pressure off the cheeks.
- Gentler fitting: a back dial makes adjusting the headband quick and gentle.
- More granular distance adjustments: side dials enable fast but exact adjustments of the distance from the eyes.
- Pivoting: with one motion you can slide the headset out and up over the eyes, so it’s quick and easy to talk to a carer or staff member while in a VR session (without having to take everything off).
- Comfier: the front and back have soft pads.
- Quicker to customise: both back and side dials have markings, so facilities with shared devices can note the optimal settings for each resident or patient and adjust quickly before each session.
The next steps
We’ll continue to test and iterate prototypes in care settings to gather more feedback. And when we’ve fully iterated the mechanics and materials, we’ll look at a more hygienic, silicon-covered foam insert for the face and publish hygiene trial results of our design vs the current Oculus Go.
If you have any feedback or input for us from using VR in care settings, please let me know!