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by Jeong Ho Kang
Savannah College of Art and Design
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VRbal

Yuka Fukuoka

School of Visual Arts, United States

Social Impact - Web / App / Game Design
Category Semifinalist
Vrbal is a smart VR experience that uses machine learning to help the user prepare for a specific anxiety inducing event of their choice. By creating step-by-step daily tasks, Vrbal gradually exposes the user to the situation.
VRbal utilizes artificial intelligence and virtual reality to allow people
with communication disorders to practice public speaking in the virtual space.
 
PROBLEM
1% of the total population who suffer from a neurological disorder called stuttering often find social scenarios stressful. Current treatments often include practicing “pretend-play” (Applied Behavioral Analysis) with therapists to prepare them for real-world scenarios. However, these techniques do not awaken similar emotions in the the patient as would the real situation due to the fact that it is not considered a sufficiently realistic simulation of the scenario.
RESEARCH
Primary Research: interviews with Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) and stutterers to understand the current treatment and what virtual reality can provide.

“Stuttering is like an iceberg. The only way you’ll ever get over your fear of stuttering is by addressing what’s underneath the surface level.” (Mark, Speech-Language Pathologists)

"It’s difficult to apply what I learn [from the therapy], because the environment [in the therapist's office] is quiet and I was with someone I trust. But when I go outside, there are loud noises and I meet new people."  (Daniel M., user)

"When I get used to dealing with an actual situation, my stuttering can be milder." (Daniel M., user)

Secondary Research: Systematic Desensitization: is a type of treatment that involves removing the fear response and substituting a relaxation response gradually using counter conditioning. This is the basic of VRbal's training method.

Competitor Analysis: MimerseCleVRVirtually Better and SimSenSei are some of our competitors on the market. However, most of these tools either require a therapist in presence or lack customization.
PROPOSAL
Our team proposes an alternative solution utilizing virtual reality, fortified by artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence enables a virtual environment that adapts to the user’s needs as training progresses. Unlike weekly therapies, AI tracks user feedback and her focus of attention so that they can learn in a customized way whenever they are ready to train. These technologies provide a socially safe and optimized learning experience that can build communication skills.

Although not meant to replace therapy entirely, VRbal aims to replace Applied Behavioral Analysis practice. Users can user VRbal to practice anytime and anywhere they want. 
USE CASE
Users will first start in an Intro Scene where the AI welcomes them to VRbal and asks which type of relaxation scene and activity they would prefer. Users have two choices for scenes (beach and forest) and two choices for activity (deep breathing and slow reading).

Based on users' input, AI will customize the relaxation scene. After the activity is over, the AI then asks for the users' comfort levels and use this information to prepare the simulation scene that follows.

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