Recently, we sat down with Charlie Pearmund of Virtual Bodyworks. Virtual Bodyworks is committed to improving lives by harnessing the power of scientifically-proven breakthrough technology. The company specializes in immersive virtual reality focused on medical and psychological rehabilitation. Founded by scientists world-renowned for their work in VR, it offers products that integrate a unique combination of computer science engineering, neuroscience, and psychology.
I know the founders have been doing incredible work in augmented reality and health applications, can you explain how this has led to Virtual Bodyworks?
Virtual Bodyworks was founded after several scientific breakthroughs in the field of embodiment, following years of research by VR pioneer Mel Slater, neuroscientist Mavi Sanchez Vives, and computer scientist Bernhard Spanlang. Their work in embodiment received significant press attention, particularly after studies in domestic abuse with the Government of Catalunya and a psychological study using body-swapping technology. Soon, the founders were receiving requests to build scenarios that leveraged embodiment, and so founded the company to undertake these projects, and ultimately build VR products that serve a social and medical need.
You reference embodiment, what is this and does this impact healthcare?
Embodiment is based on the rubber hand illusion, an experiment that showed that the brain could be tricked into thinking a rubber arm belonged to a person. Embodiment does this in Virtual Reality and convinces someone that their virtual body is actually their real body. This means, people can be placed in bodies that aren’t their own, which gives us the opportunity to give people profound VR experiences, which change perceptions, mindsets or create actual physical and neurological changes. In healthcare, our most significant breakthroughs using this technique have been in pain management, depression, and mobilization.
There has been plenty written about the Opioid Crisis, how can alternative treatments affect pain management?
Opioids account for 140 deaths per day with 11m people currently abusing opioid subscriptions in the US alone. Virtual Reality is a great way of providing a non-opioid pain relief solution, something doctors value immensely. This ranges from basic pain relief VR, such as putting somebody on a beach (distraction), to using VR as a delivery mechanism for something like mindfulness, to finally using embodiment in VR, which is what we are pioneering, as a way of attempting to permanently modulate chronic pain.
Why now? What had has led to the broader adoption of VR solutions for pain?
In the last few years, there have been significant improvements in VR hardware. As well as becoming more affordable, it is also becoming more powerful and, in the last few months, wireless. These advances are crucial to achieving mass adoption, hence the excitement around VR/AR at the moment.
Who are the key customers for Virtual Bodyworks
Aside from chronic pain, our healthcare solutions focus on speeding up rehabilitation and also on mental health. We, therefore, see interest from insurance companies, whose mission is closely aligned with ours, as well as our clinical clients. At the Barcelona Health Hub summit, we’ll be demonstrating our body-swapping solution which has had strong results in mental health studies.
You’ve chosen to house the company in the Barcelona Health Hub, what are the main benefits of the BHH?
Aside from being a beautiful place to work, which helps attract talent to the business, we benefit from being close to other companies attempting to disrupt the digital health sector. This means sharing experiences on accelerators, grant opportunities, and the investment community. We also get access to key stakeholders in our sector – over the last few months, at various events organized by Gina and her team, we’ve been introduced to pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and investors, who have all helped grow our business in different ways.
What are you looking forward to regarding the Barcelona Health Hub Summit?
Between the keynotes, the panels and the demonstrations I think it’ll be a fascinating day. Being the first such summit, it’s exciting to take part and I hope to play a part in its growth for many years to come!
What’s next for Virtual Body Works?
Next year we’ll consolidate our commercial partnerships as we continue our mission: to change the future of medical and psychological rehabilitation using evidence-based, clinically validated Virtual Reality therapy.