Anxiety or panic attacks affect about 40 million adults (18.1% of the population) in the US alone every year. Despite being highly treatable, only 36.9% of patients actually seek some kind of treatment or remedy. The aggregation of these events predominantly lead to complex set of risk factors such as changes in brain chemistry, personality, genetics, and even life events. (https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics).
We understand it is not possible for everyone to seek out doctors for treatments for these attacks. Many patients might even be reluctant to go seek out a doctor on the basis of fear or reluctance of judgement. What if there was a VR mobile application that could help them reduce the attrition of these attacks by helping them calm down when the attacks occur in a high-stress situation?
Our application was inspired by the idea that these small bits of personal "therapy" sessions can be incredibly useful for patients who may not have medical help available right away or someone who might just want to relax themselves when they feel they might be susceptible to such anxiety attacks.
What it does
Our VR application creates a calming environment with elements that help soothe the mind of the user. The entire concept dwells around objects and ambient music that help calm the person down. The user can even add objects that can help them relax. There is also a sphere that helps guide the user to average their heart beat to maximize rest and calm. There are many scenes with various moods to help the user including a forest, an arctic setting, as well as an outer space scenario. There are also scenes with 360 videos from all around the world that may help relieve a user's anxiety.
How we built it
We used Unity3D 2017.3, Google VR SDK 1.0, C#, Google Blocks (Poly), and various assets found in the Unity asset store. Most of the development revolved around implementing UI elements provided by Google's Daydream team to ease the user interaction with elements in virtual reality. We used Google Cloud Platform storage solutions to store 360 videos to access them from the application directly.
Challenges we ran into
The biggest challenge was speech integration which we did not do because of lack of feasibility and resources. It was not easy to gain access to Android microphone to receive the speech input for transcription to text. We would have used either Google's Speech Recognition API or Microsoft's Speech Recognition API. The other challenge was implementing UI elements by Google's VR SDK. These included the menu items, teleportation, and more.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are really proud of the low-poly graphics integration we were able to integrate with great music. We are also proud of the breathing exercises we integrated with the Unity graphics to help guide the user reduce their heartbeat. This ultimately leads to lesser anxiety in the user in the short term. We are also proud of the various Google VR SDK Daydream elements integration onto the Google Pixel which resulted in a great experience.
What we learned
We learned about the feasibility and the difficulty of developing mobile VR applications in today's age. A lot of ideas that we had had to be shot down due to the unavailability of technologies or the amount of time and resources not available in a typical hackathon.
What's next for VRCalm
We plan to incorporate even more scenarios into the application. In the future, we would definitely incorporate a feature to allow users to create their own scenarios from the beginning. They can modify the elements in their scenes and have total control with the scenes.