Vinholi provides senior citizens with an “Eye Opening Experience” using virtual reality

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Vinholi provides senior citizens with an “Eye Opening Experience” using virtual reality

Photo Illustration: Jonah Harrison

Photo Illustration: Jonah Harrison

Photo Illustration: Jonah Harrison

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Virtual reality technology has given new possibilities to the entertainment world, allowing video game players and movie watchers to further immerse themselves into a fantasy realm. According to senior Enzo Vinholi, however, there’s more to VR technology than simply enhanced entertainment.

“I heard about the concept [of virtual reality] two years ago, and it was really fascinating to me, but I wasn’t sold on it until midway through 2016 when I tried the technology for myself,” Vinholi said. “I realized there’s a lot of potential here for more than just gaming and movies.”

This realization eventually led to Vinholi founding a nonprofit called “The Rift: An Eye Opening Experience,” with the goal of providing therapy to senior citizens through virtual reality. The company’s premise was based in part on an experience Vinholi had with his own grandmother a few years ago.

“I was having a conversation with my grandma over the phone. My family’s from Brazil and she used to live with us, but she had a stroke and had to go back after two years. She lost her sight and a lot of her memory, and she was describing to us our house and how much she loved it and I thought, ‘What if I could show her right now? What if I could remind her of it?”

After this experience, studies published on the benefits of VR technology on patients with post traumatic stress disorder helped Vinholi realize that the technology could be used to help people just like his grandmother.

Vinholi immediately began working on making his ideas a reality, although he had to wait until he turned 18 this year to officially found the company and become its CEO. Vinholi is mostly involved with the conceptual side of the VR simulations, hiring out the actual design and creation work to professionals.

“I met with some designers and we did some research and we created and adopted a lot of these virtual reality simulations that are calm, like out in a park, very minimal movement,” Vinholi said. “It’s not so much actions as it is guiding them [users] through an experience, to avoid nausea and things like that.”

Most of the simulations Vinholi and his designers have created have tended to focus on outdoor settings, partly because many of the target users don’t have regular access to the outdoors.

I was having a conversation with my grandma over the phone. My family’s from Brazil and she used to live with us, but she had a stroke and had to go back after two years. She lost her sight and a lot of her memory, and she was describing to us our house and how much she loved it and I thought, ‘What if I could show her right now? What if I could remind her of it?”

— Enzo Vinholi

“I like outdoor places a lot, because it gives a feeling of being somewhere where you are free,” Vinholi said. “We don’t want users to feel constricted, we want people to feel free and out and about and tranquil.”

Vinholi’s company primarily uses Oculus Rift technology to create these simulations, which, although fairly pricy, provides the quality of experience that they desire.

“The amount of detail that our designers have put into the technology is amazing; every piece of grass is moving with the wind, it’s a really eye opening experience,” Vinholi said.

Vinholi, a self proclaimed “avid gamer,” uses VR technology himself almost on a daily basis, describing its uses as being “like a dream.”

You’re put somewhere that doesn’t look completely real, but it’s real enough that your brain gets tricked and immersed into it,” Vinholi said. “I feel such a sense of tranquility and euphoria that I forget the world around me for as long as I’m in there.”

Vinholi plans that the company will launch in 10 elder care facilities across Minnesota and Wisconsin sometime in early May. While most of the funding has come out of Vinholi’s own pocket, the company has plans to start fundraising through online crowdfunding site Kickstarter sometime mid March.

Vinholi, who will pursue a business and marketing major at the University of St. Thomas next fall, hopes to turn his entrepreneurial pursuits into a career. He has already started four unofficial companies and one official, profitable one, as well as being a member of the band Good Luck Finding Iris. Still, his experience founding The Rift, a nonprofit, has been distinct from all of his previous entrepreneurial experience.

“The difference between running a business where you see people being happy because you’re giving them a product which they enjoy versus what I’m doing right now [running a nonprofit] is that I get to share those experiences with people and I feel their joy because I know I’ve helped them with something that, even for just 10 minutes, can be pretty life changing,” Vinholi said.  

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