Featuring the University of Basel’s AR app for conquering a fear of spiders, the new VR collaboration app from Snobal, plus NASA and Facebook
University of Basel researchers fight fear of spiders with AR
What do I need to know? Researchers from the University of Basel have developed an augmented reality (AR) app for smartphones to help people reduce their fear of spiders. The app has already shown itself to be effective in a clinical trial, with subjects experiencing less fear of real spiders after completing just a few training units with the app at home.
Why spiders? According to the University of Basel, a fear of spiders is one of the most common phobias and leads to a variety of limitations in everyday life, as those affected seek to avoid situations involving spiders. Also, an effective although rarely used treatment is exposure therapy, where patients are guided through therapeutic exposure to the situations they fear in order to gradually break down their phobia. So arachnophobia is both common and debilitating enough to warrant investigation, with little understood about the proposed treatment.
How does the AR app work? Phobys is based on exposure therapy and uses a realistic 3D spider model that is projected into the real world. The app offers nine different levels so that subjects can get closer to—and even interact with—the virtual spider. With each level, the tasks become more intensive and therefore more difficult. Each level ends with an assessment of one’s own fear and disgust, and the app decides whether the level should be repeated or the user can move on to the next one. The app also makes use of game elements, such as rewarding feedback, animation and sound effects, to maintain a high level of motivation.
What were the results of the clinical trial? The interdisciplinary research team, led by Professor Dominique de Quervain, reported promising results in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Zimmer and her colleagues analysed the effectiveness of Phobys in a clinical trial involving 66 subjects. Over the course of two weeks, the participants, who all suffered from a fear of spiders, either completed six half-hour training units with Phobys or, in the case of the control group, were offered no intervention. Before and after treatment, the subjects approached a real spider in a transparent box as closely as their fear of spiders allowed. The group that had trained using Phobys showed significantly less fear and disgust in the real-life spider situation and was able to get closer to the spider than the control group.
Can I try the app? Yes. Following refinement with the help of GeneGuide (specifically, the MindGuide division), a spin-off from the University of Basel, the app is now available in the app stores for iPhones and Android smartphones. People suffering from mild forms of a fear of spiders can use the app on their own. In the case of people who suffer from a serious fear of spiders, the researchers recommend that the app only be used with the supervision of a professional. The app allows users to test whether they are afraid of a virtual spider for free, while the training to reduce their fear of spiders can be purchased in the app.
Snobal launches VR collaboration and presentation authoring app
What do I need to know? Snobal has launched a remote enterprise virtual reality (VR) collaboration and presentation authoring app called Snobal Sphere. It enables people to meet, discuss, present and play in VR regardless of their physical location. Snobal Sphere is available globally from the Snobal website.
Who are Snobal? A technology company developing VR and AR solutions for enterprise and education. Last year, the company partnered with Pico Interactive. By using Australia- and Singapore-based Snobal’s VR deployment platform, Snobal Cloud, businesses can easily manage multiple Pico headsets, users, permissions, sessions, visitors and experiences right out of the box.
Why has Snobal moved into VR for collaboration and presentation? Over the last 18 months, Snobal has seen the huge shift in where and how people work and study, and identified a need for a digital tool that can foster more effective workplace collaboration, safely and securely.
What are the features of Snobal Sphere? People located in diverse geographical locations can remotely meet, discuss and present in VR. They can set up an account, create their avatar and share a meeting code with other meeting participants to meet in the same virtual space. Meeting participants can choose from a selection of virtual rooms to meet, they can see each other as avatars, and talk in real-time. Meeting participants will also be able to access functionality such as importing videos, images, and 3D models into the virtual environment.
Key quote from Murray James, co-founder and chief executive officer of Snobal: “We know from eight years working with government, education, and enterprise that while they might have a strong appetite to use VR or AR for collaboration, they also need the assurance of key enterprise features such as: control over data and where it resides; control over users; control over privacy, headset and hardware used; and ease of updates. It’s where we see our differences and focus. For example, businesses and education can’t use headsets or remote collaboration solutions that require social media logins. Snobal Sphere is built for workforce collaboration so gives business and education this peace of mind.”
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Images: University of Basel, Snobal, NASA and Canva