Sep 28, 2015
Virtual Reality App Simulates Concussions

Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix have designed a virtual reality app that coaches student-athletes to recognize the symptoms of concussion. The program simulates a post-concussion experience, with the hope that a familiarity with the symptoms will help athletes choose to report them in high stress situations.

According to, the app uses the Google Cardboard virtual reality platform, which is free and compatible with any smartphone. Athletes can slip their phones into a cardboard mount to create a virtual reality headset. Once set up, the app will show a field and present a scenario.

“You’re a soccer goalie. You see the field in your headset, hear the crowd on your headphones,” explained Ricardo Valerdi, one of the creators of the app and an Associate Professor of Systems Engineering at Arizona. “You just got hit, but exhibit no side effects that are obvious to your coach or trainer. Then an avatar coach enters your field of vision and says, ‘You have just experienced a concussion. This is what it feels like.’ Suddenly, your vision gets blurred, you experience double vision.”

The avatar coach then gives advice on how to proceed, which is always to report symptoms, even when the game is at stake. By simulating the experience, researchers hope that athletes will be less likely to hide, ignore, or misinterpret symptoms in order to stay in the game or to appear tough.

“This mentality, unfortunately, results in underreporting of head blows, which can lead to serious short- and long-term consequences from a second concussion before the brain has been allowed to heal,” said Dr. Hirsch Handmaker, co-creator and Research Professor of Radiology at Arizona. “Our message is this: In addition to increasing their health risk, athletes are hurting their teams by playing while impaired.”

“The more student-athletes know about concussion and the risks of hiding symptoms, the more confident they’ll be in making the right choices,” Valerdi said. “And the right choice is simple: Don’t play through a suspected concussion.”

The building of the app is a part of the NCAA Mind Matters Challenge, an initiative, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, to teach student-athletes and soldiers about concussions. The app has advanced to the second round, which comes with $100,000 for development. The NCAA will choose a winning approach this winter, and it will be offered to 400,000 student-athletes.

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