Virtual reality experiences offer therapy for children with special needs

The first virtual reality therapy experience for children has been launched by VR Kids, a company developing stress-relieving VR software for children whose illnesses or conditions prevent them from easily leaving home or a hospital.

Designed for children, teens and young adults who spend the majority of time in a wheelchair or bed at home or in a specialist care environment, the VR experiences are intended to combat anxiety, provide happiness and provide children with the opportunity to forge positive mental and physical connections.

The experiences, which are designed for Oculus Rift and work as an interactive story, are intended to be highly intuitive, providing an adventure that VR Kids says has no learning curve and so can be enjoyed from the outset.

Images courtesy of VR Kids

Images courtesy of VR Kids

The first experience, ‘Journey to the Big Bear Festival’, is designed for children with learning difficulties.

The main character, Teddy, takes the child on a journey to meet his friends Tessa and Roompus before bringing them to a firework display. Scene changes are even handled by Teddy, who uses his magical powers to warp the player between scenes as diverse as a giant mushroom-filled forest, a pumpkin farm and a magic carpet ride over a lake.

“As a kid, I got excited thinking about how virtual reality could change the world; today through a culmination of my life’s experiences and my passion for technology and helping children,” said RJ Sampson, founder, president and CEO of VR Kids.

“I’m excited to say that ‘Journey to the Big Bear Festival’ and virtual reality will help children with special needs.”


VR Kids at present only offers its service in Las Vegas, US, taking the software and headset to the child directly, but plans to expand access in the future.

As a non-profit, it does not charge for sessions in the greater Las Vegas area, and parents can request a session for their child through an online form.

Once the consumer version of the Oculus Rift is released, it seems likely the company will expand to allow the download and remote use of its experiences so that it is not constrained by specific locations. However, VR Kids has not yet confirmed this.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

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