We know the common use cases for VR headsets: playing games, working with colleagues, and checking in with your brain health. Okay, the last one isn’t on everyone’s list right now. But it could be one day with the help of REACT Neuro and Pico.
When REACT Neuro came out recently to talk about working with VR headsets from Pico, we at ARPost knew that we had to hear more. So, we talked with Brian Nahed, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at REACT Neuro.
Meet REACT Neuro
REACT Neuro isn’t a VR company – it’s a health company. Specifically, brain health. The company was founded to rethink how we assess brain health, primarily in the case of people with concussions. However, over time, it became clear that their approach was applicable to other forms of assessment for things like natural memory loss and aging conditions.
“REACT Neuro provides a baseline assessment of brain health using biomarkers and neurological circuits,” REACT Neuro COO Jillian Paine explained in a release shared with ARPost. “The assessment from our custom VR headset – powered by Pico Interactive – is then put through our AI software to turn into useful insights.”
As surprising as it may seem, there aren’t universal benchmarks for brain health and most brain health assessments don’t have quantitative metrics. Traditional tests are difficult for human operators to evaluate, and they take time that those evaluators could be spending with patients.
“What is so powerful is that this has never been done in brain health, largely because we’ve never had the technology to do it,” Nahed told ARPost. “The current body of literature is limited to how we assess as human beings.”
Working With Pico’s VR Headset
The company hasn’t always worked with Pico’s VR headsets that use Tobii eye-tracking technology. Originally, the company custom made VR headsets and eye-tracking software, as well as their in-house algorithms. While the algorithms stuck, it soon became apparent that working with a hardware partner would improve the process for the end-user.
“While we want to push the science… you can’t do that if you have something that’s so intrusive that people don’t want to do it,” said Nahed.
This is some of the inspiration for REACT Neuro using the wireless and relatively lightweight Pico Neo 2 opposed to other industry-leading headsets that also have eye-tracking.
For example, biometric data analytics is a major selling point of the Reverb G2 Omnicept that HP announced at the 2020 VR/AR Association Global Summit. Similarly, the VIVE Cosmos is heavier, and product reviewers have called it “unwieldy.”
REACT Neuro did their research on other options before partnering with Pico, but it was research Nahed was happy to do, saying:
“[VR and brain health] is such a no-brainer – no pun intended. I would be surprised if more companies weren’t thinking in this space as well. We want to carve this space, and we want other people to be in this space to push it further and further.”
The Future of Understanding Brain Health
Using VR headsets to study brain health sounds cutting-edge, and right now it is, but Nahed said that he doesn’t think it will be that way forever. In materials prepared by Pico and REACT Neuro, as well as in our conversation with Nahed, the comparison of brain health and heart health kept coming up.
Not long ago, heart health was a black box that most people needed expert help to look into. Now wearable tech that is publicly available and largely affordable can give people immediate and real-time access to understandable insights about their own heart health. Soon, the same may be true of brain health.
“Heart health has done such an incredible job of raising awareness and understanding,” said Nahed. “If you tell someone ‘sleeping eight hours will help your brain health’ that’s something. If you can show them, that’s so much better.”
While VR headsets are becoming more commonplace, VR headsets that are powerful enough to support REACT Neuro aren’t exactly in most consumer homes just yet. However, Nahed said that growth of VR hardware and software — driven largely by the gaming industry — inspired REACT Neuro to look for outside partnerships in the first place. That includes Pico’s growth.
“There’s no doubt in our minds that advances in headsets, like the Neo 3 and others, will continue to drive the tech forward just like it has with gaming,” said Nahed. “We are always excited and we are particularly excited for Pico’s success.”
“An Endless Runway”
While brain health and VR headsets might seem like a strange coupling to most readers, it makes a lot of sense to the experts – which could be why Pico actually works with such a long line of mental health partners including Kinful, XRHealth, and MyndVR. Even this could be just the beginning.
“It’s this idea of bringing technology into the brain health space that has just charged us,” said Nahed. “It makes us believe that we really have an endless runway.”