Zeeko secures €100,000 to pioneer research into impact of VR on children’s health

7 Nov 2017

From left: Dr Marina Everri, head of research at Zeeko with Cian Sheehy. Image: Nick Bradshaw/Fotonic

A new ethnographic study will involve parents, teachers and students.

Dublin edtech start-up Zeeko has secured €100,000 through the Horizon 2020 (H2020) SME Innovation Associate programme to launch a new research project to evaluate the effect of VR technology on children’s health.

The company, a previous Start-up of the Week here on Siliconrepublic.com, was founded in 2013 by Joe Kenny. It works with parents to promote a healthy balance for children using screen devices and the internet.

‘In reality, very little is known about the impact of VR on body, cognition and social relations, especially during a child’s development’

Headquartered at NovaUCD, Zeeko is an Enterprise Ireland High-Potential Start-Up (HPSU) company.

The project has received funding from the European Union’s H2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 739807.

“We plan to complete this research project in Ireland by September 2018 and our plan is to thereafter expand the project to the UK and Italy as well as other European countries,” Kenny explained.

“The aim of the project is to identify side effects of VR technology and to create an innovative solution to any nascent problems identified with VR. This complements our plan to develop a new educational platform to support children’s critical thinking and discovery of solutions to risky online situations.”

Project addresses knowledge gap around child health and VR

This research project will recruit a group of teachers, parents and children, aged 10 to 12 years, through primary schools in Ireland, to participate in an ethnographic study.

The study will be carried out both in schools and in home environments using innovative techniques previously tested for the study of children’s use of digital devices.

To date, a relatively small number of studies have been conducted on VR involving children. Some of these studies, mainly conducted in the US, have shown that VR can efficiently support a child’s learning, thanks to an immersive sensorial experience that enhances engagement and information retention. Others have shown that VR can be employed to treat children’s emotional and relational problems, such as depression and anxiety.

The research project will be led by Dr Marina Everri, a social psychologist who has recently been appointed head of research at Zeeko. Everri has worked as a researcher and family psychotherapist in academia and in organisations, in Italy and the UK, and joins Zeeko from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“In reality, very little is known about the impact of VR on body, cognition and social relations, especially during a child’s development,” Everri explained.

“More research, such as the research we are about to commence, is needed to understand the interplay of children’s individual characteristics, their relational and cultural context, and the opportunities and challenges offered by VR technology.

“This will be done by examining VR side effects in the areas of education, environment behaviour, empathy and health, directly involving children, their families and teachers at each stage of the research process. This will allow us to find the best solutions for children, their families and teachers.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years