In this episode of Raising Tech, our host, Patrick Leonard, has an informative conversation with Dr. Ellie Giles, Founder and CEO of Virtual Apprentice, about how Virtual Apprentice's virtual reality solutions are being utilized to improve education and social engagement in Senior Living communities.
Discover the ways Virtual Apprentice's VR systems are mitigating loneliness and enhancing emotional engagement for Senior Living residents.
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Welcome back to Raising Tech , a podcast about all things technology and senior living. I'm your host, Patrick Leonard, and today we're gonna talk about a solution that we've mentioned and talked about before on the show, but it's been quite a while. It's becoming more and more commonplace in senior living over the last couple years. And that topic is virtual reality. So virtual reality, as I mentioned, has become more and more utilized these days and there are also a lot more and more use cases for this technology as well than what people might traditionally think of. So with that, I'm excited to introduce our listeners today to Dr . Ellie Giles , Founder and CEO of Virtual Apprentice. Dr. Giles, welcome to the show.Dr. Ellie Giles:
Well thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk about virtual reality and senior wellness.Patrick Leonard:
Awesome, thanks. We're happy you're here. So to kind of kick things off, Ellie , do you mind telling our listeners a little bit about your background and yourself and why you founded Virtual Apprentice?Dr. Ellie Giles:
Sure, I'm happy to do that. So, I started off for 30, over 30 years as an educator teaching special education and working as a school administrator. I moved on as I became an empty nester onto new horizons, not because I didn't love teaching, but because I think it's always important to challenge yourself. So I moved on to economic development within our county and help build up a new entity within our county for economic development. And through that became totally excited about workforce development. The county named me as one of the first CEOs of that program. It's the largest workforce development entity in our state. So I got to really understand career pathways, good ways of getting individuals into jobs and sustaining jobs and what were the barriers for jobs. And I became a little frustrated because I wanted to get people into jobs quickly and found that using technology was the way to go, and particularly virtual reality because virtual reality really can create that workplace environment without having risks and can become competency based . I put out a proposal to my board and to the county council. They were not as willing to adopt virtual reality as quickly as I was, but I could not let the concept go. And so I started my own business and I have had some real success within the training, bringing all of my background together to do that. During the pandemic, nobody wanted to put goggles on their face, as you can just understand. And so it gave me an opportunity to take a look at virtual reality and what capabilities are for other areas, especially looking at social good. And one of the things that we looked at was senior isolation. We were all feeling isolated. And my mom motivated me a little as she was very isolated, being in Florida and I'm being in Maryland. And so I started to look at how I could use virtual reality to support seniors.Patrick Leonard:
I love it. Thanks for that background and it is such an interesting background because I think a lot of people, when they think of virtual reality in a sense, think of, I don't know, maybe the gaming world or the experiential world, which is obviously a piece of what you're talking about here, but approaching it from an educational background I think is really, really interesting, particularly with its use case, you know, with staff and in the education sector itself, but also in senior living, the potential to to train staff on certain items. So can you dive into those different solutions and a little bit more as far as what you're seeing are the biggest impact in the solutions that you offer, and particularly how some of those relate most readily to senior living communities?Dr. Ellie Giles:
Absolutely. So I'm really glad you asked that question because it gives me opportunity to do some myth busting. Virtual reality was developed for gaming and for entertainment and it's truly marketed that way. And so it is not really getting the experiences that it can get and the capabilities it can. Virtual reality is just what it says, it is a simulation of reality, but it is totally immersive. It creates such a sense of presence that it improves retention by 90%. People go back and do the training again, we have huge competency development. It mitigates risk. If you're doing any kind of development training that has any kind of risks to it like a construction site or working in electricity, you're, you can learn without having that risk involved. And the other nice thing is it is saves a lot of money with consumables because you're not now utilizing all kinds of consumable equipment while you're learning, it's all virtual 3D assets, but you can manipulate it, you can practice with it over and over again and you can create all kinds of learning opportunities. Adults love to learn by doing. Adults love to learn within the context of their learning. Virtual reality provides all of that. So it's not just for gaming, it's not just for kids. In fact, I always tell everybody virtual reality, get out of the game and that instead <laugh> so that instead of gaming it, let's play. Let's get in there and really use the attributes that it has.Patrick Leonard:
That's great. Yeah, thank you for that. And I got to experience it firsthand at conference LeadingAge Maryland a couple weeks ago, able to try them on and I was in a shark tank, with some sharks <laugh>, and it was quite a crazy experience, but there was multiple different modules I could select. And I imagine that's just again, a small piece of what you all offer. Can you tell me a little bit more about the experiences that you are offering, sort of templated kind of out-of-the-box solutions that you provide and programming for your clients and how do you balance that with any potential? I don't know if there's custom programs that you all offer as well. Tell me a little bit about like kind of the experience development and how clients engage with that.Dr. Ellie Giles:
Great. So what we did after I had met with my mom and my, I grew up on the bay boating, when I talked with my mom, we used to share memories of that. So creating that was one of my first experiences was being back down on the water with the boats hearing and letting her be able to sit in her home. She's not very mobile anymore, but be on the water again, which gave her such pleasure. So that really was how it started. Then I hooked that idea and was accepted into a tech collaborative through Johns Hopkins and NIA to continue to build out that platform. And one of the , the whole mission was to mitigate loneliness, create environments, create experiences where seniors could then have spontaneous conversations about their shared experiences. So that is really my goal. We keep the experiences fairly short because the outcome is conversation and interaction not being in the goggles. So knowing that is what we're moving for , we've created experiences that are senior friendly. So you know, first I should say there's two components when you develop VR. One is the user's experience and the other is the content that we actually do. So we really wanted to focus in on both senior friendly user experience and a senior friendly content. So everything we build, we build on our own, we do all our own filming. And so to answer your question, we do have some that are already there that we can keep adding to, but we're also free using our own 360 photographer and our own editor to create whatever customized programs are needed. I wanna just go into a little detail about what I mean when I say senior friendly, if that's alright. So first thing we did, and again, I'm , this is all being guided by the, the geriatric program in Johns Hopkins. So we really work very closely with the experts in the field to understand where some of the challenges would be using VR with seniors. So technology as a whole tends to be a challenge for seniors. If you've got a lot of controllers or novel experiences, it takes the fun out of it. Like anything, when you have a long learning curve, it takes the fun out of it. So we wanted to avoid that. Everything we have in the goggles is eye-gaze activated , so there's no need for controllers. You literally put it on, there's a screen to select kinds of experiences you wanna do and then you can just look at it and activate it. We avoid the need for internet because we download it directly into the headset. So it has its own little processor and we slow down the refresh rate because the goggles are developed for gaming. So it refreshes very quickly. We slowed it down so it doesn't refresh quickly and it eliminates any kind of dizziness or balance because there's not as much going on. We then started to look at what was content that was out there and you can have, you know, YouTube videos or some 360 videos that are already out in the universe, but they are way too fast. They tend to be shot like from a drone. So you're looking down, going down a waterfall, going around a corner. And so they weren't real senior friendly and that was the reason why we decided to move to develop our own content. Our original content was digital and we now are doing all real filming. We've, we've gone down toward D. C. And Baltimore, we have tour guides and there's more interaction, human interaction, which is something that we've found that the seniors are appreciating more and having to see people while they're there, not just things, all of our experiences, the longest experience is five minutes because we don't want, again, you to be looking at it like TV, you wanna be in there, you wanna look around, enjoy the experience, take off the goggles and talk about it, interact with others. So we've really tried to keep our experiences engaging but fairly short.Patrick Leonard:
That's awesome! So that's the first time I've really heard virtual reality described in that way and I think it's really impactful. I can see a lot of potential pushback for people who aren't as familiar, thinking, well I don't want my loved one just sitting with a VR headset all day and just being consumed like a another device, you know, or tablet or tv. So it's really cool to hear that they are purposefully and thoughtfully built into these bite size type of experiences so you can take it off and have that conversation. So it's really interesting to me. Can you tell me what have you seen as far as in the communities, how people are putting that to practice? Are they working with life enrichment or activities coordinators? These are kind of group activities and experiences where they go through something together and chat about it or does it just depend on the situation, maybe individual family members in the rooms with the resident or they'll take turns and then talking about it? Or what have you kind of seen from your end of how this is actually practically used in that way?Dr. Ellie Giles:
So all of the above. We mostly are serving senior centers or whether it's residential or day programs. And one of the things that we provide with every experience are facilitation guides. My background in counseling, I can bring out some facilitation guides. So even if they had the experience, just things that start facilitating conversation if needed. I have to tell you, 90% of the time we just get unbelievably incredible spontaneous language. It's new, it's fun, it brings back memories. And so we tend not to need the facilitation guide, but we do provide that for individuals. I also wanted to let you know that one of the things we're doing within our study is we're really taking a look at level of engagement and spontaneous language. So as right now we're really collecting a lot of research in the goggles. We are able to track eye gaze and we are with a heat map technology, being able to watch where the eyes are. Are you really enjoying the 360 of this environment? Are you looking straight ahead like watching tv? And then we're comparing those that are higher engagement and the spontaneous language to really verify does virtual reality really increase social engagement and mitigate loneliness? And what is the variables that are gonna have individuals really take place and engage in the 360 environment. And that's really some of the data we're collecting right now.Patrick Leonard:
Thanks for that. And so another thing I love , um, you use the term MythBusters, you're busting some myths related to virtual reality now, which is super helpful in educational for us. And part of the purpose of having these types of discussions with our listeners is to kind of understand those kind of burning questions for people who aren't as familiar with, in this case, virtual reality and can kind of answer some of the questions for. So another item that I thought about was, again, people are starting to be very, you know, there's more and more studies coming out. People are always very hypersensitive of screen time. They're hypersensitive about how much time they're spending on their phones, looking at the computer screen during the day, looking at the TV set during night. So this just reminds me know , again, it's broadest term of another screen. So for those out here thinking well what is the impact on my eyes or just adding to another screen time, can you talk a little bit about the applications or protective measures taken into the development of the technology in the VR headset to kind of mitigate any of those potential risks or problems?Dr. Ellie Giles:
So going into VR, the context of it being screen time , I'm gonna do a little pushback on , because I think it's not really screen time. You are having an experience, you're going someplace with that. Your mobility or social setting or whatever barriers are there prevent you from doing so. If you wanna go to Hawaii, you just can't go, you get to go to Hawaii when you wear those goggles or if you wanna look at art or you wanna listen to classical music that brings back memories or even see pictures of family, all of those things can happen within VR. So we're not really looking at it as a screen time issue because you're going places virtually, but you're experiencing it, you're getting a visceral response from it. It's visual, it's motion, you have a gyroscope in there so when you turn your head the environment moves with you. There's really a very strong sense of presence while you're there.Patrick Leonard:
I love that. Yeah, I , I experienced it myself. I put on , I was amazed at how just any head movement in any direction, it was just a continuation of a 360 view. There was no lag time, there was no confusion. You really felt fully immersed in the experience itself. So I love that, again, busting another myth as it relates around screen time, because it really wasn't. So I want just raise that up as kind of a question cause I'm sure again people who aren't as familiar might might be thinking that. So thanks for kind of clarifying and talking through that a little bit more.Dr. Ellie Giles:
And screen time is passive, this is active.Patrick Leonard:
You know, I think how far VR has come just in the last couple years alone and everything that has happened in this space and I'm constantly learning new things about it and you've educated so much today. But from your perspective, you know, where is VR and I guess it's kind of lifecycle of its potential. We've come so far so quickly it feels like, to me at least, I'm sure you have different perspective, but is there still a lot left there as far as innovation goes? Are there things that we should be expecting to see just from virtual reality in general or your solution alone over the next year, two years, five years, whatever it may be down the road? What's kind of on the horizon as it relates to VR and your solution in particular?Dr. Ellie Giles:
So I started my business March of 2020 just because Covid was getting off the ground and the growth in this industry in just those two, three years has been, I mean, overwhelming. I need to always stay within the networks and the institutions and the research because it changes so quickly. Just like when the computers first enter the world, first emphasis has right now been on the hardware, finding hardware that's robust enough, that's cost effective , that's untethered because you've got lots of hardware now that's hooks up to computers. That's not gonna be an effective tool, especially for seniors. We've gotta find the headsets that work independent and get to that right price point. So Google, HP and a company out of China called Pinko , that company who owns TikTok as makes these headsets, there's Apple who's come out with it there . You know, all of the industries are really fighting right now to come up with the biggest that is hardware, not so much in content. So the content piece is just emerging now, but I really do see the combination of using VR where you're in the experience and then AR, where it's augmented community where you can bring up maps or what you might be looking at as a guide as part of the future of this, where you will be in your virtual environment but be able to be looking at an actual blueprint or an actual schematic or another scene. If you are looking for seniors and they want to navigate a hospital, you might be able to see the floor plan of the hospital while you're really walking it. So those kinds of things that better bring reality and virtual reality together I see is really where the future's gonna be. I just recently was contacted by a new senior center and that's exactly what we're doing for them is we are creating the senior centers under construction. They are looking to rent their housing, but the seniors can't visualize it by looking at a floor plan . So we've created now 3D floor plans where they can walk in and then visualize their for own furniture in there and see what kind of countertops may I weigh . We can switch it real quickly and they can really get a sense of the living space before purchasing it.Patrick Leonard:
Wow, that's amazing. It's hard to imagine, you know, it's something you see out of the movies almost these days, but it's here, it's happening and it's really cool to look forward to those type of things, knowing that it's available through solutions like you and companies like you who are just on the cutting edge of this type of technology to really bring some of this excitement and innovation to the industry. It's really, really awesome to hear. I really appreciate you sharing all that with us. Before we wrap up, are there any final thoughts or anything that you're dying to let the listeners know as it relates to virtual reality or in particular Virtual Apprentice before we sign off today?Dr. Ellie Giles:
I think that the most important point that I really, really wanna get across as we talk about my solution or anyone else's solution is how important it is to address loneliness in seniors. I mean, just recently the Surgeon General talked about that being such a major health risk and the more we've moved with social media and people are not having as much face-to-face time as they used to. The health concerns of loneliness is just so severe that anything we can do to mitigate that and that it just elongates life, it voids depression, it helps with all kinds of other health issues, both physical and emotional. And so what motivates me with this tool is not the technology but the outcome, the social good that it will provide.Patrick Leonard:
That's awesome! That's a great way to sum it up . Dr . Giles, thank you again so much for the conversation today! I personally learned a bunch , I know our listeners will as well. So thanks for taking some time to have the conversation and to educate everyone that'll be listening to this episode.Dr. Ellie Giles:
Thank you, I appreciate it. And feel free to visit our website, www.VirtualApprentice.net.Patrick Leonard:
Absolutely! Listeners, thanks so much for tuning in for another great episode of Raising Tech. I know you probably picked up some awesome and valuable information today, like I did. If there's any other topics you want to hear about or you have a comment on the episode or want to be on an episode yourself, please feel free to reach out on our website at www.ParasolAlliance.com, and have a good one!