When VR re-emerged a few years ago, the team behind Equal Reality instantly saw an array of opportunities waiting to be discovered in these new, virtual worlds. Much like everyone does when they first put on a head mounted display (HMD), but where most of us envisage gaming opportunities, these guys were struck with the potential for social change.
“Our founder, Annie Harper, started the idea of working in the social training space,” begins Equal Reality developer Brennan Hatton, “and it was really her passion and desire for change in the social space that brought our team together.”
The Equal Reality team, escaping into virtual reality.
Equal Reality recently went into soft launch by releasing a demo for the HTC Vive. It puts the user, quite literally, into someone else’s shoes so you can experience the unconscious bias suffered by many in the workplace and wider society. The first step of combatting the issue being, as Equal Reality highlights, turning it into a conscious bias.
And it works.
“Interestingly, we’ve found very strong reactions from those people that have actually experienced the bias’ in real life,” Hatton continues. “Our first scenario was around gender, and we often get comments from women about the relatability of the scenario in their own life. For taller men, the height change is usually the first and most notable difference they perceive coming out of the experience.”
The experience begins with quite a jarring transformation as you emerge into a virtual office space, stood in front of a mirror. Despite any characteristics you might have entered when building a representative avatar, a female character now looks back at you from the mirror.
Seemingly innocuous and commonplace conversations then take place with VR co-workers, and you’re given a front row seat to their reactions, interactions and behaviours, and you’re encouraged to hit a button whenever you feel a character exhibits some manner of unconscious bias in regard to you.
As Hatton explained, for male users it becomes quickly apparent that their expected role within the exchange is frustratingly diminished, while it can help female users to articulate their feelings through a sympathetic experience.
“We are currently finishing off two more scenarios that demonstrate commonly encountered age and disability stereotype biases experienced in work related interactions,” says Hatton. “We are also working on improve the graphics quality to be more life-like, and providing more levels of interactions. Ideally we want to become the standard for high-quality experiential learning for Diversity and Inclusion.”
STEM subjects are benefiting hugely from the introduction of Equal Reality
The trio behind Equal Reality is certainly equipped to achieve this. Founder Annie Harper is a former Intel alumni who developed an interest in social hacking after building AR demos for CES. Brennan Hatton met up with Harper after leaving Meta to move toward the education space, and the two began working on VR projects including introducing virtual reality development for kids. From this, the idea of diversity training through VR was born.
“We all really came together when Rick [Martin], who was helping us grow our previous business really validated the potential of the idea and market size with his research.”
Even with a crack team now assembled, and a strong product in the works, it’s been a challenge to get Equal Reality in front of users’ eyeballs.
“Our biggest obstacle is in communication of the possibilities of this tool,” Hatton explains. “This is not just our problem, but a problem for the whole VR industry. The advantage of VR is extending communication through experiences, and experiences are best understood through experiencing them!
“I like to think of the problem like taking someone to Yosemite. You can’t explain, show a photo or even video of the beauty of Yosemite. It is something you must experience.”
A meeting simulation in Equal Reality
But word is spreading as early users do their best to share the surprising, and even shocking experiences Equal Reality confronts them with around the workplace.
“Initially, while the reach of the technology is still growing we’re focused on training executives and top level managers,” he continues, addressing the approach Equal Reality is taking to reach its initial audience. “As a preparation before decision making, but as content is developing by ourselves and others we see it used in all levels of training. From complete courses, training modules, onboarding experiences to quick relevant reminders.”
Businesses that are keen to lead the charge in human resources and employee training improvement are evidently very excited about bringing Equal Reality to their workforce, as well as utilizing VR as a training tool in general. Their enthusiasm both for the tech, and for Equal Reality, demonstrates just how prominent we can expect VR to become in this area of enterprise.
“The future for us is to allow anyone to leverage the software tool we have built to create their own training simulation for experiential learning,” Hatton concludes. “We are aiming to make it as simple as possible to generate simulated social interactions in a range of environments and situations.”
You can try the Equal Reality demo right now over at WEARVR, and learn more about the team behind it and the continuing work they’re doing over on the official website.