Following successful tests by researchers at the University of Barcelona and the government of Catalonia, Spanish startup Virtual Bodyworks is negotiating with UK companies to roll out the technology.
The virtual reality (VR) headsets have been shown to help stop domestic violence perpetrators re-offending by putting them in the victim’s shoes.
Using the VR headsets, the male offenders were transformed into women and were able to experience being on the receiving end of domestic violence.
The test subjects were then confronted by a digital male aggressor, who shouted verbal abuse while moving closer to them, while the software ordered them to engage with the virtual character.
The system, which uses artificial intelligence (AI), is able to detect if the subject tries to disengage from the aggressor by not looking at it.
Mel Slater, co-author of the study, said: “The atmosphere is interactive, since the abuser looks at the participant’s face and shouts ‘shut up!’ when speaking, or ‘look at me!’ if looking elsewhere.”
Virtual Bodyworks claims that 60% of the over 200 criminals that have used the tech in the last two years have not re-offended due to increased levels of empathy. Before the study, researchers discovered that offenders found it difficult to identify fear in a woman’s face.
Researcher Sofia Seinfield, said: “After experiencing themselves as the victim, in the virtual reality session, the ability to realise about that fear improved.”
Charlie Pearmund, chief business officer at Virtual Bodyworks, is keen to see the headsets in all prison and rehabilitation centres in the next three years.
“We’ve had a few conversations with some of the bigger players in the UK. It’s a very young idea. You’re bringing a completely new concept to the table that no one has seen before,” he said.
The company has also developed other VR systems to help in other domestic violence situations such as parental abuse and bullying in school. Later this year, the company will seek financial backing to support its plans to expand into the UK.
This tech has the potential to help reduce the high societal cost of domestic abuse, which the government says costs £66 billion each year, more than the total cost of all crime.