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ST Engineering Antycip helps conquer fears with immersive VR therapy solution

Immersive treatment supports people with autism and those who suffer with restricting phobias or anxieties. Solution is comprises a curved screen mounted upon a custom mechanical structure that extends to support a three-channel solid-state projection array overhead, utilising Optoma laser projectors

ST Engineering Antycip, Europe’s “leading provider” of virtual reality solutions, has created a custom designed 180-degree cylindrical screen surface, complete with supporting mechanics, to deliver visual content to patients undergoing therapy treatment provided by UK based, XR Therapeutics (XRT).

XRT’s unique treatment programme is based on over nine years of research in immersive therapies led by Newcastle University. Within a CAVE setting, a trained therapist administers traditional CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) techniques combined with gradual immersive exposure conducted with the aid of VR technologies.

A rigid cylindrical screen system enclosed in a proprietary surrounding structure has been installed at the XRT offices in Gateshead – the entire mechanical sub-structure comes in component parts, allowing the screen display solution to be transport and easily assembled onsite.

Antycip’s immersive solution is comprised of many components, including the main curved screen, mounted upon a custom mechanical structure that extends to support the three-channel solid-state projection array overhead. In addition, a display screen substrate offers geometry stability superior to that of a typical tensioned fabric, and the use of Optoma laser projectors enables the light source to deliver a longevity of service without the need for consumable lamps whilst meeting the price-performance of this particular solution.

Visual Displays Ltd, played an integral part in realising the custom fabrications necessary for the design, working in unison with Antycip to ensure the bespoke design exactly matched the brief of the end-user.

The visual content, created in the Unity platform by XR Therapeutics, is integrated with VIOSO Anyblend VR&SIM software, enabling automatic calibrations to be directly applied to the content itself, correcting it for the display before signals leave the GPU.

With proven success helping children and adults with autism, XRT’s aim is to roll out this programme to the rest of the UK population, providing fully immersive VR environments to gently expose patients to the subject of their fear, which can be anything from fears related to transportation, crowds, arachnophobia, canines and general social anxieties. The therapist has real-time control over the content displayed to gradually introduce aspects of their phobia at a comfortable pace for the patient, via a tablet.

“The 180-degree cylindrical screen increases the viewers’ peripheral immersion whilst the VIOSO Anyblend VR&SIM software enables a continuous single image presenting a large pixel real estate,” commented John Mould, Antycip’s commercial development manager. “It’s a pleasure building new partnerships with unique companies like XRT that have a positive vision of what they wish to achieve.”

Each treatment starts with a relaxation scene, like a beach or a meadow and then when the patient is ready, they move onto the treatment scenario where they are slowly exposed to their feared stimulus.

If a patient, for example, requires help managing their fear of being onboard a crowded bus, the therapist will start the patient getting onto an unoccupied bus – over the course of the session, more passengers will board the bus as the patient is able to meet the increased challenge. The therapist is there to help them practice anxiety management strategies such as relaxation techniques and using coping self-statements.

“The therapist will have complete control of the display and can adjust it at any time,” said Penny Day, XRT’s project delivery manager. “This means the specific environment that the person finds challenging can be reproduced in a safe setting – users can navigate through scenes for example, in a supermarket or classroom with a tablet, without the need for a headset or goggles.”

Mould added: “XR Therapeutics sought a technology partner capable of designing such a system but also with experienced engineering services that could deliver solutions wherever their business may grow. This specific type of application is a first for STE Antycip that we have encountered in the past 25+ years of operation, It is genuinely a pleasure to see the end result and to know that the technology is going to benefit the quality of peoples lives moving forward”.

The device allows the treatment of CBT to be shortened from weekly sessions over 10-14 weeks to just four sessions in the immersive studio over the course of one to two weeks, resulting in an increased capacity for mental health staff, shorter waiting times for anxiety or phobia treatment, and overall savings in costs that would typically be spent on a clinician’s time.

“Each session will be delivered by a specially trained therapist and the patient will have the same therapist throughout their treatment,” continued Day. “All of our therapists are BABCP/HCPC registered and have received full training in our VR intervention…We’re very satisfied with the solution delivered by Antycip, they provided a very professional service and a system that has matched our requirements. We look forward to enhancing it further with more advanced projectors in time.”

According to Antycip, the innovation has the potential to be rolled out to individuals with anxiety, mental health practitioners, public healthcare organisations such as NHS Trusts and private health care providers both in the UK and internationally.

“STE Antycip live and breathe all varieties of immersive display systems,” concluded Mould. “It is wonderful to know that we have helped to deliver a visual display medium that can help patients to overcome and reduce their anxieties but in a secure and safe environment. We hope that XRT are able to take this type of solution and bring a positive change to the many people who require such therapies.”