VR helped a terminally ill diver swim the Great Barrier Reef from a hospital bed

One day, technologies like 3D bioprinting and artificial intelligence could all but halt death. Today, we can’t necessarily do that — but cutting-edge tech can greatly improve people’s end of life experience.

That’s what a charity in the U.K. aimed to achieve this week, when it used virtual reality to grant a terminally ill cancer patient what could, quite literally, be the wish of a lifetime.

“He may not be able to get there physically, but he could experience it virtually from his bed.”

37-year-old Matthew Hill was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospice specialist unit in Plymouth with late-stage bowel cancer. Although he and his family had managed it for a while, his condition had worsened to the point where it was now impossible for him to be cared for at home.

As an avid diver, Hill had always wanted to swim in the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral system. Unfortunately, his advanced bowel cancer meant that there was no way that this would be feasible. Never mind getting on a plane and flying across the world; the spinal compression that was a result of Hill’s illness meant that he couldn’t even sit upright in bed.

“Our nurses wanted to try and fulfill Matthew’s dream in some way,” Gabby Prior, Communications Officer at St Luke’s Hospice, Plymouth, told Digital Trends. “He may not be able to get there physically, but he could experience it virtually from his bed. The head of our Crisis Team, Sharon Smerdon, had heard that virtual reality was an emerging technology, but didn’t know any specifics.”

Smerdon asked around, and was put in touch with Truvision, a local VR startup located at Plymouth University, which usually uses virtual reality to demonstrate architectural plans to investors. Given the timeline, they suggested using an existing VR experience called “The Blu,” developed by the VR studio Wevr. Just 24 hours after receiving the request, Truvision’s staff rocked up at St Luke’s Hospice, bringing the necessary equipment.

“This was a first for us, and it put a smile on all our faces to see we could make somebody’s dreams come true,” Truvision employee Ben Priddy told Digital Trends. “We put our HTC Vive VR headset on Matthew so he could be immersed in the visual experience. We also gave him a pair of over-ear headphones so that he could experience the [high quality] sound delivered by the program. These together made the experience as immersive as possible, letting him be able to hear all the fine details.”

Although he couldn’t sit up or leave the bed, Hill was reportedly blown away by the VR outing — which offered a trip to a coral reef filled with glowing jellyfish, a dive with a blue whale on a sunken pirate ship, and a journey to the depths of the ocean floor, alongside angler fish and a giant squid. And all without getting wet.

In his own words, he was “well chuffed” by the experience, and was left with an enormous smile on his face.

The staff were also left with smiles, as well as the thought that virtual reality may just become an invaluable part of what they do.

vr great barrier reef terminally ill diver the blu screenshot

“[Afterwards the staff kept commenting] on the enormous possibilities virtual reality could offer patients in their last few days or weeks of life,” Price said. “The technology has really made something which some people would have thought impossible, actually possible.”

The idea of a VR bucket list is just one more thing the hospice can offer to aid with a positive end-of-life experience.

“If we can make a patient enjoy their time spent at St. Luke’s, then we know we’ve done our job”

“If we can make a patient enjoy their time spent at St. Luke’s, then we know we’ve done our job,” Price said. “Hospice care is so much more than just hands on care; we are about making every moment count. We offer so much at St. Luke’s, from bereavement care for families to connecting patients to their loved ones in distant countries at the end of their lives. With VR we can offer even more.”

Since his undersea adventure, Hill’s condition actually improved enough that he’s been able to return home. That’s something that not every patient is able to do, however, which has led to the team at St. Luke’s thinking of a new way VR could be used in hospice care.

“The fact that we strive to deliver care at home, as this is what patients usually prefer as they pass away, and that the VR is portable, opens up even more opportunities for its use,” Price said. “We could even go as far as recreating patient’s home life or childhood home while they’re in the hospice ward. Not every patient needs an underwater or outer space experience; some would just be happy feeling as though they’re back home.”

We struggle to think of any applications of VR that are more life-affirming than that.


5G is the swift kick VR and AR gaming needs to come to fruition

There's a lot of hype surrounding augmented reality and virtual reality, but is it really the next big thing? We take a look at where the new mediums stand, as well as how 5G is poised to help them break into the mainstream.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Norsemen’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.
Emerging Tech

The Great White Shark’s genome has been decoded, and it could help us end cancer

In a significant step for marine and genetic science, researchers have decoded the genome of the great white shark. The genetic code revealed a wealth of insight into what makes these creatures so successful from an evolutionary standpoint.
Emerging Tech

‘Guerrilla rainstorm’ warning system aims to prevent soakings, or worse

Japanese researchers have created a "guerrilla rainstorm" early-warning system aimed at preventing severe soakings, or worse. The team hopes to launch the system before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft will collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu by shooting at it

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will soon touch down on the asteroid Ryugu, where it will collect a sample by shooting a bullet into the soil. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2020 to learn about the formation of asteroids.
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.
Emerging Tech

No faking! Doctors can now objectively measure how much pain you’re in

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered the blood biomarkers that can objectively reveal just how much pain a patient is in. Here's why that's so important.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch world’s first privately funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.