SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Bill Morley normally spends a quiet Friday morning alone in his apartment at Maravilla but on this particular morning, he was prepared to go on an adventure with his godson, who lives in San Diego, without ever leaving his chair.
"Well, I can guess what he'll choose," Morley said. "It'll be Mexico and it'll be Roatan."
Morley is one of 44 residents taking part in a month-long, collaborative study involving a group of researchers, entrepreneurs, UCSB Communications Professor Tamara Afifi and, Social Psychology Professor Nancy Collins. The group is basing its research on Virtual Reality (VR) technology created by Rendever.
"We can take them to anywhere in the world that they want to travel," Afifi said. "Eiffel Tower, they can swim with the dolphins, go to Machu Picchu. We're taking someone back to where she got married, to the chapel."
The goal is help aging seniors keep in better touch with families and loved ones and to determine whether the technology helps those experiencing cognitive decline.
"On session one, we kind of travel around the world," Afifi said. "Session two, we have Google maps inside of the VR, so we can take them back to their childhood home. Then the third session, we're actually having family members upload family videos and photos and engage with each other. They can hear each other through speakers in the VR and they can talk to each other about what they're feeling and sensing. So, it's like they're traveling together but they're not physically together."
Afifi called this a feasibility study and said it is the first time Rendever has been tested long distance.
"We also want to know about their emotional connections to the family members, does it bring them closer together? Does it make them less lonely? Does it decrease their levels of depression?" Afifi said.
Needless to say, Morley is excited to spend an hour each week for the next month, connecting with his godson in the same destination location, even though they'll be hundreds of miles apart.
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