A device has been developed by a pair of engineering and computer science students at Santa Clara University to fight phobias.
The pair teamed up with the university's psychology department to study how phobias are treated and create a virtual reality experience to address patients' fears.
The students used a system that pairs a Rift headset with a touchscreen tablet. The head-mounted 3D display device tracks head orientation, allowing users to experience virtual world. They initially started with the fear of heights and flying.
When the patient wears the Rift, the therapist can use the tablet to alter the virtual height and the resultant view - backing off or increasing exposure as needed according to the patient's unique needs.
For example, the treatment starts with the patient virtually standing on top of a building. Initially the building is not very tall and the therapist can slowly increase the building's height while observing the emotional response of the patient.
By increasing the height without terrifying the patient, the therapy can help patients overcome their fear of heights.
The heights in the virtual world may frighten patients but the wearer of the device knows they can take it off at any time.
The team stresses that their tool is for use by trained therapists, not for sufferers to use on their own.