Augmented Reality Conquering Phobias

1 in 10 people from the U.S. has some sort of phobia. Out of all those people, 40% have a fear related to bugs (including spiders), mice, snakes and bats. And 10% of the world’s population has claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces. Almost none of these people seek treatment.

A bunch of cockroaches on top of rock in dim light

Irrational fears affect our everyday life. Some may even cause severe anxiety and depression. More complicated phobias such as agoraphobia (fear of public places that may bring embarrassment or make you feel trapped) are more likely to cause those symptoms. Nonetheless, people purposely start avoiding situations where they might come into contact with the thing that causes them that fear and anxiety. Their phobia starts to affect their daily lifestyle. But we can solve this.

A new company called SmartTek has decided to help solve that exact problem using AR. Many therapies are designed to help mitigate all sorts of phobias such as claustrophobia and arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Yet, it takes an immense amount of courage for the people who have the phobias to get help. Most of the time, they just accept their phobia as their new normal and don’t do anything about it.

Yet, what if a whole process of going to a therapist could be replaced by simply downloading an app? Wouldn’t that encourage way more people to face their fears? Using SmartTek’s app it’s still possible to have a therapist, but you can use the app alone too.

SmartTek’s app uses AR to simulate your phobia and slowly helps you get over it. The whole point of it being an AR app is to not totally freak you out during the process. Under normal circumstances, you would be put into the same room as your fear making it much scarier. Knowing that it’s just a simulation makes it much easier to get used to.

But what is AR and how does it work? AR is a computer’s interpretation of our real world. Instead of changing the whole perception of the surroundings like VR (virtual reality) does, it literally “augments” what is already there. AR can be programmed to have certain triggers that will cause the technology to react by showing something on the screen. It’s really cool how it’s being used to solve phobias.

SmartTek’s app is designed to treat certain phobias using AR technology. The augmented reality treatment would work really simply. You download the app and put your device into a cardboard headset. You can use the app without a headset too, but it is much more effective if you do. Afterwards, you can change the settings to customize the simulation to your personal requirements. Then, you begin!

For example, if you were afraid of bugs, you could change the type of bug that will be shown in the simulation to match the one that you’re afraid of. You can also change the movement and size of the bug to your comfort zone. If you’re just starting with the treatment and you’re really afraid of that certain bug, you’d probably want to set the movement of the bug to none and set the size of the bugs to small. Using baby steps to first get used to the bug then to the bug’s movement.

Additionally, the app can also be used for claustrophobia. It can simulate a set of walls that get closer and closer. If you have a therapist along with the app, they can change the speed or size of the walls according to your fear (you can also do this by yourself).

All the settings are there so that you can get used to your fear. Everyone’s far is a little bit different in intensity and background. You can go at your own pace and your treatment is very personalized. The whole point of the treatment is to “expose” you to your fear while knowing that what’s happening isn’t real.

Though currently, SmartTek has only developed claustrophobia and bug AR simulations, we could do so much more. We could solve agoraphobia, fear of any kind of animal, and practically anything that is an irrational fear. We can help people that are mortally petrified of something no longer let their fear control them.

The power of AR technology in phobias is immense. At some point, we may be able to eliminate phobias all together. No longer will anyone be inhibited by their fears and imagine how much better we could all become.

I’d love to talk a bit more: olivka.sliuka@gmail.com

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Hey! I’m a grade 10 student fascinated with learning, creating, and sharing what I learn with you!

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Olivka Rozenberg

Hey! I’m a grade 10 student fascinated with learning, creating, and sharing what I learn with you!