Empathy, Embodiment and Empowerment in VR: Augmented World Expo 2018 – Here I Come!

Empathy, Embodiment and Empowerment in VR: Augmented World Expo 2018 – Here I Come!

Coming off the heels of moderating an extremely engaging VR panel at the Immersed Conference in Portland, I’m excited to be covering a similar topic at Augmented World Expo this year.

May 21st I’ll be taking the stage with several VR colleagues to discuss how VR and immersive technology is providing positive psychological benefits. The panel discussion, entitled ‘A New Reality: Empathy, Embodiment and Empowerment in VR’ will highlight the latest work and research being done in this emerging field.

The panelists will include Donna Davis, Director of the Strategic Communication Master’s program at University of Oregon, Dr. Pam Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, Jerri Lynn Hogg, Director of Fielding Universities Media Psychology department and Robinne Burell, Chief Product Officer at Redlight Mobile Innovation.

AWE 2018 will feature hundreds of expert speakers and sessions featuring the latest developments in the AR and VR space. The two day event runs May 20th, 21st and 22nd and tickets are still available.

If you are planning on attending the event, please be sure to stop by my session, Thursday at 4pm and say ‘Hey’. I’d love to meet you!

VR My Valentine: The technological evolution of love, connection, and intimacy

VR My Valentine: The technological evolution of love, connection, and intimacy

By Lisa Peyton, originally published on Venturebeat.com

Connection is difficult. With more distractions, demands on our time, and mediated communications like texting and social media, making time for intimacy and love can be challenging. Holidays such as Valentine’s Day can serve to reinforce this realization, further isolating singles and those who choose alternative lifestyles. There are some who feel technology is an obstacle to intimacy and love, but other experts believe virtual reality can actually help foster connecting in new and exciting ways.

“Absolutely. Virtual reality can help bring us closer together and foster love and intimacy,” said Dr. Holly Richmond, a Ph.D Sex Therapist and author of the soon to be published Next Sex: Mating, relating and masturbating in the new age of technology. Richmond sees VR and other emerging technologies as having immense potential to help break down the barriers to love and intimacy in the digital age.

According to Richmond there are several applications where VR can play a role in healthier relationships and closer connections. VR therapies are already being used successfully to treat disorders such as PTSD and common phobias, Richmond believes this treatment can extend to sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunction, low libido and performance anxiety. “VR therapy can help common disorders — pain disorders, low libido, and erectile dysfunction. By helping people understand arousal and taking the pathology out of ‘not doing it right,’ VR can provide positive solutions in a safe and comfortable environment.” Richmond is currently exploring using immersive VR environments to help treat these common issues among her patients.

She also believes there would be huge value in using VR to help teach anatomy and human sexuality in schools. Using a 3D model to explore female and male anatomy would enable students to better understand their own bodies and the bodies of potential partners. Immersive VR educational videos would also act as great tool to help explore human sexuality in a safe and nurturing environment.

Why VR?

Beyond therapy and education, Richmond also believes VR has the power to help normalize sexual expression and empower users to better understand and meet their own needs. In her practice, she outlines three elements that are vital for healthy, intimate connections. These “Three E’s” are Empathy, Empowerment, and Embodiment. VR’s immersive elements, such as having a first-person point of view (POV), enable the user to experience and feel these elements instead of just talking about them.

Above: Dr. Holly Richmond is currently working on using VR to help treat her patients

Image Credit: Katarina Kojic

“VR is great place to learn and practice. It gives users an experiential component. Better than just watching, we can feel our way into things. It also gives us choice — choosing your POV, for example — gives us more control and can be very empowering. VR also allows for a mind and body connection. We can actually feel it — it’s an integrated experience. Used in education, learning outcomes are dramatically improved when someone can experience something instead of just watching.”

The love-tech landscape

Above: Holly Richmond on the set of Badoink’s “Virtual Sexology” series.

Individuals and couples can now use a few immersive tools to help enhance intimacy.  VR films, primarily focused in the adult entertainment sector, are beginning to take more of an educational approach. For example, Badoink’s “Virtual Sexology” series, which Richmond co-authors, is positioned as a sex therapy program. It primarily consists of 360 degree videos shot from the first-person perspective. The viewer can choose man or woman’s POV, and the scene immerses them as a participant. The voice-over includes tactics like sensate focus and applied behavior applications such as positive reinforcement. While this type of immersion may be a step above traditional 2D video, it still doesn’t enable the viewer to feel what’s happening on film.

Enter Kiiroo, a growing tech company based in Amsterdam. It’s developing a solution to this problem.

Kiiroo is the leading producer of remote-controlled smart teledildonics for couples. Since 2013, this company has used technology to help couples feel more connected and intimate when they’re not together — especially when they are hundreds if miles apart. Through the use of the Kiiroo app and the devices, both male and female, couples can have an interactive experience, controlling each other’s pleasure, despite being a continent away. Couples can see each other in real-time via a 2D webcam or other similar device (like a smartphone), but according to Kiiroo’s Maurice Op de Beek, couples can now use a 360 degree camera and enjoy the VR version. “VR is so real and immersive, but historically, you couldn’t feel it. You needed touch. We have created the illusion of touch and are solving this problem.”

Above: Kiroo’s Fleshlight Launch and Onyx 2

Op de Beek is extremely optimistic about the potential of creating more and more realistic experiences with the help of VR. When asked if we would see hyper-real sexual experiences in our lifetime, his immediate response was “Definitely! We already have this with our Launch device. It’s very real and the developments are going so fast we are about 10-20 year out from hyper-real simulated sexual experiences.” Kiiroo’s most immersive product, the Fleshlight Launch, enables male stimulation synchronized with a VR film experience. The device exactly mimics the actions onscreen, reeling the viewer into the action and providing for a new level of embodiment. The market has about 1,500 VR-enabled films that are synced to devices, with more in production.

Above: Kiiroo Chief Technology Officer Maurice Op de Beek, believes we will experience hyper-real immersive encounters in our lifetime.

Kiiroo is also enabling devices for women to sync with VR films, partnering with We-Vibe and OhMiBod. Op de Beek has approached many of the leading device manufacturers and proposed adding Kiiroo’s smart technology to their products. Eventually there will be hundreds of thousands of these smart devices all over the globe, allowing for couples and singles to remotely connect like never before.

Richmond feels leveraging the immersion of VR can be a valuable tool for these devices: “The newest VR-enabled, remote control devices are some of the best that I’ve seen. They force couples to communicate, taking some of the guess work out of meeting each other’s needs. It has facilitated conversations about what people like and what they don’t like. Sex tech can help women be empowered and connect with their own bodies and then share this with a partner.”

On addiction

Given the reality of achieving hyper-real sexual experiences in our lifetime, some fear that these experiences will be addicting and act as a replacement for real, human interactions. Headlines such as this one from a recent ABC post, “Virtual reality addiction threat prompts cautious approach as VR nears ‘smartphone-like’ take-off,” work to propagate these concerns. Richmond doesn’t believe VR will increase addiction and argues that technology is only working to enhance human connection, not replace it.

“The idea of addiction — I just don’t buy it. There’s no such thing as sex or Internet addiction. There will always be people who abuse technology. The VR component won’t make it that much more addictive. From print magazines like Playboy, to online adult entertainment, and now VR and teledildonics — the technology will keep progressing. We, as human beings, need to learn how to keep up with it.”

The future is bright

Both Op de Beek and Richmond are extremely optimistic about what the future holds for VR and making a love connection. As technology improves, so will the ways we leverage this technology to learn more about ourselves and our partners. VR is creating new communication channels, new ways to feel and empathize with one another and ultimately allow for a full range of intimate self-expression. Richmond sums it up: “My mission in life is to stop the pathologization of any kind of sexual expression that isn’t within the ‘normal’ box. And thankfully, that box is opening — we’ve got pansexual, demi-sexual, bisexual, and now digisexual.

“We’ve still got this inherent desire, especially in the US, to pathologize difference. Immersive technology, like VR, can enable us to embrace, even celebrate, these differences, and allow us to safely explore and experience ourselves in new ways. This is what I see as the biggest potential for VR.”

Peyton’s Immersion Grid: A model to compare immersive media experiences

Peyton’s Immersion Grid: A model to compare immersive media experiences

What causes immersion? As the digital revolution rages on, technology has been both blamed and lauded for capturing more and more of our attention. We have been given the tools to tell stories in new and exciting ways, access to data that has never been available before and the ability to connect to a fully realized digital universe. As digitally connected citizens, we are constantly bombarded with incoming messages and have become adept at tuning out endless amounts of ‘noise’. So what then CAN capture and keep our attention? An array of augmented reality and virtual reality applications or ‘immersive media’ experiences are being developed across various sectors and engage users like never before. The immersion grid has been developed to help compare and contrast these applications and predict how likely they are to be truly immersive. (more…)

#AWE2015: News and Notables from Augmented World Expo 2015 Day 1

#AWE2015: News and Notables from Augmented World Expo 2015 Day 1

Flying into San Jose EARLY Monday morning, I was filled with excitement. What cutting-edge technologies would I discover? Who would I meet that was doing cool immersive stuff? What virtual reality and augmented reality gear would I get to TRY out?

Day 1 of the conference was a mixed bag of highs and lows. Unfortunately due to high demand,  many of the sessions I wanted to attend were standing room only in a HOT room.   After about the third try, I gave up attempting to see and hear over the crowd and just hoped they would release the session ‘on-demand’. The one session I WAS able to attend was a GREAT demo of Unity3D, a development tool that is quickly becoming the industry standard. It boasts several key features that make it the ‘go-to’ choice for many developers and designers. It supports all of the major devices like the Oculus Rift, Hololens and Leap Motion. It also allows developers to publish their work on the web or in an Android or iOS environment, apparently with the click of a button. You would think all of this functionality wouldn’t come cheap, but they have packages starting at under $100 per month. Unity3D also has a resource library of plug and play 3D components for sale by other designers. Apparently skilled designers are making upwards of $90K per month selling their 3D creations.

By far the most compelling part of the day was the NETWORKING and getting into countless inspiring discussions around the potential of these immersive technologies. Everyone that I met was eager to jump into a conversation about how they planned to use the technology to make the world better. Because I’m a teacher, I tend to see the most potential on using AR and VR to help engage students and improve learning outcomes. There are a myriad of other case uses that might be more surprising. One session entitled ‘How to measure enterprise AR impacts’ outlined how Boeing was able to save millions by using augmented reality to help them build airplane wings more efficiently. Amazing! (more…)

Living and Learning: Potential of immersive technologies in education

Living and Learning: Potential of immersive technologies in education

Advances in digital technology and communications are radically changing the way we live. Can they change the way we learn? YES!

One of the areas digital technology has the potential to make the biggest impact is education. I’ve been a teacher for over a decade and currently teach both online and offline courses. I’m excited about the paradigm shift that is happening in education, however there is is still a VERY wide gap between what is possible and the current state of classrooms. Today’s students aren’t engaged by the old teaching methods and aren’t gaining the skills required to succeed in a digital world. This is where immersive technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR) and virtual environments can help. (more…)

#AR Augmented Reality or Augmented Brands?

#AR Augmented Reality or Augmented Brands?

Augmented Reality or AR is the process adding a digital layer over our real world environment with the hopes of adding value to the experience. During my journey researching some AR projects, I was impacted by two very different areas of exploration.

The first included multiple stores and experiments demonstrated on the Augmented Reality Overview blog. The site included many user-generated videos that demonstrate some of the amazing technology that is emerging in the field of AR. The videos demonstrated uses that could provide value in the real world and change our lives for the better. One example of this was a medical AR application that allowed doctors and medical staff to scan a patient with the phone app and be provided real-time access to their medical records such as x-rays and other pertinent information.

Another example demonstrated real-world interactions with computer generated objects.

The developers explained the technology this way:

Mano-a-Mano is a spacial augmented reality system that combines dynamic projection mapping, multiple perspective views, and device-less interaction with 3D virtual objects.

It was mind blowing to see this high-level technology being enacted in what looked like a college dorm room. The juxtaposition of this futuristic technology alongside an average looking apartment reminded me of how NEW this technology is and how we’re all in the nascent stages of something very powerful.

These humble videos describing home spun AR projects lay alongside polished campaigns by entrepreneurs like Vivian Rosenthal. Rosenthal has started a company called GoldRun, now called ‘Snaps’, that produces AR campaigns for big brands like Target and AT&T. She is positioned as a thought-leader and innovator in the AR space and had this to say on the future of AR in a recent interview (Rosenthal, V. 2015):

In the past it has been pretty gimmicky. It has been tied to a webcam and we’ve all seen some of the webcam AR. And some of its kinda cool but ultimately it’s gimmicky because you have this piece of paper and you’re awkwardly moving it around. I thought there was this opportunity to when GPS was unhinge those physical restraints and tied to AR. You have AR, GPS and your smartphone that you could literally invert how AR was used and think of your city as the chess board and you’re the chess piece. Different physical locations become hot zones and your this game piece and you’re walking through a hot zone you have the ability to see these virtual objects.


GoldRun app that created Augmented Reality campaigns to sell shoes. Rosenthal has crafted some innovative marketing campaigns, coining what she calls ‘v-commerce’. She believes that brands need to create off-line experiences, targeting consumers using their smartphones. In a recent example, she worked on a campaign that created pop-up virtual stores in various locations in urban centers. The stores could only be ‘seen’ using the smartphone AR app, where consumers could then click on the product and order it online. The campaign boasted amazing results with the product selling out during the virtual flash sale.

I am both mesmerized by Rosenthal and also a bit put off. I would LOVE to see someone with her talent working to use AR for something OTHER than selling sneakers. She briefly discusses extending the GPS AR technology beyond marketing but has no real-world examples of what this might look like.

Have we arrived at a place where EVERYTHING has to be branded? Are brands so deeply embedded in our identities that in order to make sense of the world around us we NEED to connect with brands? Part of me feels like this choice between the user-generated AR applications and branded AR experiences is being made for us. As marketing teams continue to co-opt technologies such as AR, brands and corporations will continue to tighten their grip on our identities. Digital media and AR have given anyone with big pockets access to our lives through what is quickly becoming a digital version of the self: the smartphone.




Rosenthal, V. (2015). Vivian Rosenthal: GPS Enabled Augmented Reality. Retrieved from http://www.fahrenheit-212.com/vivian-rosenthal-gps-enabled-augmented-reality/

The Augmented Reality Overview. Retrieved from http://augmentedrealityoverview.blogspot.com/