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NeuroCuddl

Biofeedback based Virtual Reality system for mental wellness

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Stress, anxiety and depression affect a sizeable portion of the populace across different age ranges. Relaxation and controlled breathing along with behavioural visualisation and cognitive control strategies have shown to effective in management.

NeuroCuddl is a novel phone based VR headset to provide the user with an immersive environment for both mental health and vivid recreational experiences. Comprehensive relaxation is provided to the various senses by stimulating muscles, playing synthesized music and showcasing dynamic visuals all of which are modulated by the user's breathing pattern and mental state. Breathing patterns are comfortably measured using a contact microphone in the nasal region. The system would interface to a VR ready smartphone over BLE and provide analog pulsations to control TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) output which provides soft & soothing stimulations for the shoulder muscles.

Why?

Depression, Anxiety and chronic stress are among the most common and highly debilitating mental ailments which affect people across different demographics and ages. Over long term it can increase chances of destructive behavioural tendencies such as substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. Mental ailments have huge costs on both a personal level and societal level. There is a need for an effective prevention and long term treatment programs that are tailored to an individual. Though virtual reality (VR) has been used for decades as a tool for psychotherapists. Virtual reality therapy has been used to aid people with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and adverse phobias. This performed by usage of exposure therapy which allows a person to experience the scenario in a safe and controlled manner helping release anxiety and other symptoms. Large scale adoption in recent years has been due to advent of affordable Virtual Reality headsets. VR therapy alone however is not a complete solution. Lack of biophysiological sensing hampers assessment of a given therapy’s effectiveness. Many VR therapy apps do not take advantage biofeedback mechanisms(Respiration/Heart Rate Variability) which have been widely used for mental health treatments. Further a lack of patient specific modulation of the stimulants provided to patient reduce effectiveness of therapy. Body haptic feedback is a significant component that is lacking in current VR therapy. Far too often pseudoscientific and vague therapeutic methods marketed to people suffering from mental ailments and there is no reliable metric that comes along with those methods which allow users to gauge their mental state. Zen based relaxation techniques and other eastern approaches to relaxation are hindered by lack of access to a proper trainer to provide feedback in home sessions. Our goal with NeuroCuddl is to create an open platform that can use validated and data backed approaches to aid themselves and be customizable to serve them better.

With a reliable base platform and support for expansion we believe the community can develop “experiences” or adding other sensors(Perhaps a RADAR based non-contact respiration sensor) or actuators(Heating pads mayhap?).

Fig 1: Storyboard sketch shows how NeuroCuddl helps Jacob by solving his physical and mental health related problems

How?

Our solution would use a combination of validated techniques for to provide relief. Biofeedback, A validated approach for mental wellness would form the basis of a patient specific training regimen and provide modulation to muscular and audio-visual stimulation provided by the EMS unit and VR headset respectively.

Biofeedback & Mental State assesment:

Biofeedback is a technique which uses provides a person awareness on immediate and continuing signals due to a bodily function that the user is not usually conscious of. Biofeedback techniques are well known to facilitate treatment for a wide variety of disorders with a psychosomatic symptoms such as hypertension, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, and in many cases the results obtained have been notably positive. During biofeedback therapy, a patient learns relaxation techniques and mental exercises that allow them to lower their blood pressure or regulate their physiology.

Breathing is among the most fundamental physiological functions of the human body and has a significant role in physiological regulation and biofeedback. From an evolutionary perspective, breathing is closely linked to emotions: it plays an important role in “fight or flight” responses. While signals such as heart rate and electrodermal activity (EDA), which measures skin perspiration, can also serve as markers for stress, they cannot be consciously modulated breathing however can easily be modulated. Breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing in particular is a well-validated technique to help people relieve stress...

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JPEG Image - 69.28 kB - 04/22/2018 at 11:32

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  • 1 × Mobile VR Headset Any mobile compatible VR headset with/without headphones
  • 1 × Smartphone Any smartphone of 4.7-5.5inch with minimum 3GB RAM
  • 1 × RN4020-V-RM120 Bluetooth Low Energy module (SMD)
  • 4 × Crimp pin connector
  • 2 × Electrode Cable

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  • Problem Statement

    Vignesh Ravichandran04/22/2018 at 18:05 0 comments

    This idea was one of necessity more than anything. I found myself often stressed at work and quite short tempered at my home after returning from work.Sleep was scarce and "quality" sleep was nonexistent. My usual stress relief routine had consisted of listening to instrumental music and later playing some abstract games but they too did not have huge impact. It was while playing Subnautica A minimalist atmospheric exploration game set in an alien ocean on a friend's Oculus I finally felt a bit at ease. Despite it being a temporary effect I was able to clear things up in my head. Varun had also been using a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit for his recent back pains and he was also working on making a custom muscle stimulation based on the OpenEMSStim project. Through our discussion we got to realize the immense potential a VR based relaxation system would have through use of biomedical sensing and muscle stimulation. Through some initial literature survey and research we came to understand basic mechanisms of biofeedback for stress and anxiety relief. We came to learn of approaches using respiration based biofeedback for relaxation training and another approach using Audio-Visual stimulation to provide deep relaxation and mindfulness. The audio-visual stimulation devices also known as Mind Machines had used a combinations of high frequency LED blinks along with auditory stimulli to constantly evoke sensory potentials resulting in a kind of resonant effect. It was further found that with low frequency visual stimulation resulted in effective biofeedback mechanisms. Combinations of these two powerful techniques along with muscle stimulation was the  initial goal of NeuroCuddl. 

     Far too often pseudoscientific and vague therapeutic methods marketed to people suffering from mental ailments and there is no reliable metric that comes along with those methods which allow users to gauge their mental state. Zen based relaxation techniques and other eastern approaches to relaxation are hindered by lack of access to a proper trainer to provide feedback in home sessions. Our goal with NeuroCuddl is to create an open platform that can use validated and data backed approaches to aid themselves and be customizable to serve them better.

    With a reliable base platform and support for expansion we believe the community can develop “experiences” or adding other sensors(Perhaps a RADAR based non-contact respiration sensor) or actuators(Heating pads mayhap?).

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