Awere is a gamified learning VR experience focused on enjoyable deep breathing and the ability to incorporate biofeedback. An abstract environment, inhabited by animated creatures, adapts and responds to each player’s breathing patterns in real-time. The player holds the Gear VR controller pressed against the belly allowing the breathing to be tracked via an accelerometer and a microphone input. The player navigates the digital environment at will and chooses whether they want to move up towards the sun or to complete the level. The soundscape is generated in real time in response to biofeedback from the player.
Awere merges mindfulness and well-being with technology, and creates personalized, fun, and embodied experiences as an unexplored realm. A fair percentage of users share frustration of being isolated in VR experiences and that discourages them from exploring opportunities VR can offer. Awere allows for full immersion with spatial sound of the medium to let the user rejuvenate themselves through controlled breathing exercises. Deep breathing is useful for:
Awere demo session focuses on deep breathing practice. Deep breathing is not only the entry point to many forms of meditation, but it helps to soothe the nervous system and enhances emotional balance and memory recall. Our team believes an embodied and immersive VR experience, with biofeedback, can result in more environmental and personal (internal) awareness. The experience is versatile, it can be setup in community centers, public spaces, or in one’s own room. We believe Awere can help support the wellbeing of people and the planet.
The user is offered to sit down, take a GearVR controller and put on headphones or earphones equipped with a microphone. Onboarding instructions show how to put the controller against the belly correctly and describes how to interact with the environment. The user is invited to exhale at varying levels of audibility and are encouraged to adjust the experience as they desire, and learn how to progress through to the level. Next, the user is invited to a short deep breathing session that can offer relaxation and eased muscle tension. Data from the controller and microphone affect the visuals, particle systems and soundscape. The user can also choose not to progress through to the level and just explore their visualized breathing for as long as they wish. The game mode takes 7 to 8 minutes and the exploration mode might last up to 40 minutes.
The end of experience is marked by the user being requested to hold their breath. The final breath is marked by a beautiful geometric pattern. The aim is for the user to feel relaxed and refreshed – transformed by the VR experience.
The current core target audience are individuals who are interested in meditation, breathing techniques, self-improvement, learning mindfulness and consciousness hacking. It also can be useful for people who have problems with anxiety, ADHD, panic attacks and stress, but who cannot or do not have time to practice traditional mindfulness exercises. The appropriate age range can be anywhere between 13 to 60.
Awere has potential to reach a global audience. Everybody that breathes and experiences stress can potentially benefit from a guided breath with biofeedback. We hope that people can have democratic access as oftentimes, biofeedback technology and contemplative practices can be inaccessible to many communities. Awere is easily scalable, can be translated into different languages and it combines the right content with an affordable GearVR headset.
Ultimately, the main aspiration is to help reduce anxiety, depression, stress symptoms and to democratically offer the scientifically studied contemplative practices to an as much broad audience as possible. May it be at home, work or even prior to a stressing situation: Awere offers to relax and energize within a few minutes.
Awere explores virtual reality with breath biofeedback as an embodied experience of momentary presence (or mindfulness). It is only now, we are able to merge virtual reality technology with contemplative practices with such captivating quality.
With VR, breathing is both visualized within a custom soundscape. It enables an unprecedented form of immersion into one’s own ‘inner body.’ Our team has been advised by the researcher, who co-facilitated one of the first studies one of the first studies on Tibetan “g Tum-mo” meditation by Herbert Benson and Harvard in 1981. The health-improving “g Tum-mo” is a combination of breathing techniques and visualizations, and have since become known in our part of the world. The scientific measurements to learn about the benefits also became simplified. Back then, complex analysis of reductionistic measurements took weeks to analyze, and it took practitioners years or decades to master.
Now, the Gear VR with controller can be used to detect the breathing patterns, personalize and adapt the visual and audio environment in real-time. The focus on visuals and audio in VR allows an experience without the distractions of a space, and gives each user their own virtual room to practice.VR reinforces the learning process by making the world around the focus of breathing.
Our team member hannes bend also conducted a neuroscientific study on visual stimuli on screens with the Lab of Ed Vogel over months. After attending the Oculus conference in LA in 2015, hannes found the immersive and real-time dynamic of VR beneficial to potentially skip months of analysis. The use of VR guarantees a high quality, real-time biofeedback and joyful experience unmatched in its applicability and outreach potential.
How is Awere differentiated from the competition?
There's no mainstream market for biofeedback-driven video games, and the technology is still niche. This presents the opportunity not to compete, but to work together and shape the market landscape of the future. Currently biometrics are being used for collecting statistics in games, but rarely for the influencing the environment. There are a few biofeedback-enabled games in the market which use breathing, voice input and heart rate changes for affecting the gameplay. The creators of these games are pioneering the market and receiving positive feedback. The technology becomes more and more affordable. Experienced game developers predict growth of the market in the next decade. Awere can became of of the first affordable and widely available experiences on this market.
Awere is aimed at a broad audience anywhere. All beings breathe and encounter stress, anxiety and many also enjoy VR and games. Awere offers breathing and contemplative practices via Gear VR, and hereby introduces a potentially new population to VR. Awere can be used at work, home, in communal settings (with the planned multiplayer mode) and public venues. It can be presented at non-commercial, commercial, game, art and mindfulness-centered venues, conferences, events and organizations in addition to the Oculus store application. Awere is centered around an essential activity all beings share. It is thereby expandable anywhere with different languages as guiding voices in the future, and momentarily personalized visuals and audio.
Our team member hannes bend has also been working with people who are incarcerated incarcerated beings in the high security jail complex – high stress environment – Rikers Island, and explores how to offer Awere to communities in Uganda and Senegal.
Awere can also function as an accessible breathing guide. For instance a large urban area like NYC has only a few breathing teachers available. Optional developments include a multi-player functions so friends can breathe together in-sync and enjoy a calming company.
Awere enables any user to enjoy the benefits from centuries-old condensed contemplative practices via the latest Gear VR technology. A premium version can be purchased to track progress and statistics, compare results and further personalize the VR experience.
Our team members have been integrating contemplative practices into daily life with technology in many projects. Recently we have been creating the SEAing Breath .VR biofeedback project for the ‘Sea Level Rise’ program for the University of Miami and Miami-Dade County in conjunction with researchers, activists and organizations. The past months, it has been temporarily exhibited at museums such as Frost Science Museum, HistoryMiami Museum, Tidally United, Miami CAD, 1Hotel and other venues and other public and private venues, and received feedback from the around 1,000 users so far.
hannes bend has been merging science, technology with creative and contemplative practices and activism.
hannes bend recently developed one of the first virtual reality (VR) programs with heart rate biofeedback, with researchers while artist-in-residence at the Institute of Neuroscience and Quantum Physics Alemán Lab, at the University of Oregon from 2014-2016. For this project hannes’ team won “Best Presentation Award” at the AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) Spring Symposia 2016 in the panel “Wellbeing Computing: AI meets Health and Happiness Science” at Stanford University for the paper “Mindful Technologies”
hannes conducted research on meditation and visual stimuli using EEG and fMRI. His practice centers around merging the insights from creative and contemplative practices, technology and science. hannes has presented, published, researched and exhibited projects internationally at museum, conferences and institutions. hannes has been guiding breathing sessions globally, and been working with breathing pioneer Wim Hof.
Kyle Wilson is a composer, songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist based in Brooklyn NY. An alumnus of music programs at Interlochen Arts Academy and New York University, Kyle found his first musical niches in the worlds of orchestral pop and indie-rock as the songwriting front person of the critically acclaimed band Milagres. Client list includes Netflix, The Guardian, The Atlantic. https://kylescottwilson.com/
Maria Mishurenko is a game developer and experience designer from Brooklyn, NY. In her work she explores new approaches to education in the fields of philosophy and psychology using augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and has a background in media production and documentary filmmaking and currently is a graduate student and researcher at NYU Tisch School of Arts, Game Design MFA program. She is also recipient of Next Generation Leaders program, sponsored by International Game Developers Association. www.mishurenko.me
Gordey Chernyy is an independent visual artist, game developer, live performer and creative technologist, originally from Kazakhstan. Currently he resides in Brooklyn, NY. In his artistic practice he explores intersections of software and art, human-computer interaction and biofeedback. His interests include Eastern philosophy, psychology and generative art. As a creative technologist he creates highly efficient customized tools for animators, visual artists and live performers. Gordey’s client list includes Lauryn Hill, Keurig, Kia, CU Boulder, IBM, Grey advertising, etc. He has a background in visual arts, motion graphics and filmmaking. www.gordich.com
Awere was developed during Oculus Launchpad program 2017