It’s a rare moment in life when you encounter something that helps you see the world in a new way. Your heart races, your mind expands, and everything seems possible. I experienced just such a moment last year when I visited Jeremy Bailenson’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University.
It wasn’t my first experience in Virtual Reality (VR), which itself had been exciting and provocative. My early exposure inspired me to form a team at LRW focused on using VR to better understand the role of the non-conscious and emotions in consumer decision-making. I thought of it as VR meets MR (market research).
At Professor Bailenson’s lab, I flew in a virtual world like Superman and saved a baby. Afterward, I felt powerful and proud of my good deed. Professor Bailenson explained that test subjects who experienced the virtual Superman flight were more likely to engage in altruistic behavior after their experience. I pulled the goggles over my eyes again. This time, I found myself in a forest where I chopped down a mighty redwood tree with an axe. It didn’t surprise me when the Professor reported that test subjects used fewer paper towels to clean up spills after leaving the woods. Professor Bailenson opened my eyes to a new reality, a Virtual Reality that affects actual reality.
I instantly had a revelation. We could use virtual reality to change human behavior, making the world a better place. It turns out that Jeremy had the same idea. So we decided, pretty much right then and there to together develop a new venture with a ridiculously grand idea of “changing human behavior to make the world a better place.” Probably crazy … but you gotta dream big!
Together, we launched AppliedVR™, a company designed to find commercial applications for VR to improve life. Our applications to date include multiple health applications in the realms of pain management, weight loss, drug and alcohol recovery, medication and physical therapy adherence and more. We’re currently working with the top management of a multi-billion dollar insurance company to develop a VR-based approach to improving worker safety awareness and sensitivity with the goal of reducing the rate of workplace accidents.
When we first started, we encountered some skepticism. But now we tell people we’re only interested in talking to cutting edge, innovation-oriented thinkers who want to partner with us in developing truly new things to the commercial marketplace. Nearly all the meetings we’ve been having are with CEOs, CMOs, and Chief Innovation Officers. We’re finding a lot of top management really want innovative ideas to improve their businesses.
About a month ago, Mark Zuckerberg visited Dr. Bailenson’s lab. His intuitive bells must have rung like mine did, because today Facebook publically announced its acquisition of Oculus VR, the virtual reality headset maker, for a whopping $2 billion.
“We are making a long-term bet that immersive virtual reality will be a part of people’s lives,” Zuckerberg said on the investors’ conference call.
I couldn’t agree more. I’d say he probably got a good deal.