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Pixvana helps develop therapy in virtual reality aimed at kids dealing with depression and anxiety

Inside the world of virtual reality, young people can learn how to cope with depression and anxiety by better understanding how their brains function and how thoughts and feelings develop. And the cutting-edge healthcare technique is being developed in part by Seattle-based startup Pixvana.

The 3-year-old company announced Wednesday that it is partnering with Limbix, whose mission is to improve healthcare with VR, by creating an immersive therapy for adolescent depression and anxiety.

According to a news release, the companies — along with researchers from Harvard, the University of Texas at Austin, and Stony Brook University — have developed VR scenes that support Growth Mindset Training — an understanding that anyone can develop their abilities and intelligence.

Scenes filmed in 360 degrees depict situations that are age and gender appropriate and depict situations that could lead to depression in teens. The VR experience, which is considered comfortable and safe and gives kids a sense of control of the environment, teaches them to understand that they have power over their thoughts and can change how they think and feel.

The VR scenes are intended for use in high school classrooms and by the professional therapist community. A trailer video showcases the project, above.

CEO Forest Key told GeekWire on Wednesday that Pixvana worked hand in hand with Limbix from project ideation to post-production execution.

“First, we outlined goals and objectives for this project and worked with Limbix to deeply understand the research, impact of this condition on our youth, and how VR might help,” Key said. “Then, we assigned the right production team, identified the right features to apply in the experience from our VR storytelling kit, and finally we worked with key stakeholders to create — what we all believe will be  — a very impactful immersive experience to help viewers learn about depression.”

Pixvana utilized a state-of-the-art Yi Halo Jump camera rig, fitted with 17 individual camera modules, to create a high-resolution experience, with stereoscopic 360 videos in 8K resolution and 4-channel ambisonic audio. The final product included 22 total shots ready to be made into four branching storylines.

The project is in line with the company’s belief that some of the most valuable applications of VR video in today’s market are for business applications, including employee learning and development for soft and hard-skill training; sales and marketing presentations; and for vertical industries like manufacturing and healthcare.

“VR has the ability to change hearts and minds when used in the right context, with the right audiences, and businesses see value in VR as a powerful communication medium,” Key said. “We are committed to partnering with innovative companies — like Limbix — that are looking for new and more impactful ways to solve real-world problems.”

Pixvana has raised $20 million from investors including Vulcan Capital, Raine Ventures, Microsoft Ventures, Cisco Investments, Hearst Ventures, and Madrona Venture Group. In September, the company released a full version of its software platform SPIN Studio that helps VR filmmakers edit, process, and deliver video at 8K resolution — while wearing a headset.

The use of technology in school settings as a means to making kids feel more comfortable about discussing how they are feeling is reminiscent of research at the University of Washington. In the school’s Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, scientists are better understanding whether robots can be used to measure stress levels in teens.



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