Second annual USC VR Hackathon for international coders, designers focuses on Medical Empathy Machine

Kicking off its second annual virtual reality (VR) Hackathon, the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing (CBC) announced this year’s focus of the competition is “Medical Empathy Machine,” showcasing the potential of VR to change medicine and patient experience through emotion, compassion and empathy.

Coders and designers from around the world can submit novel, fully developed VIVE VR solutions online before the deadline of September 12 at: An expert panel of judges will select three finalists who will then present live to the judges. The final winner will be awarded a $10,000 grant to further develop the product and will also present the winning concept at the 10th Annual USC Global Center for Body Computing Conference held at the main USC campus in downtown Los Angeles on September 23.

“Our first VR Hackathon last year brought out some amazing talent that showcased the power of engaging developers into thinking about empowering patients in their own health story through immersive experiences,” said Leslie Saxon, MD, founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing. “This year we’re taking the competition to a whole new level to highlight how the experiential aspect of VR actually takes compassion and turns it into empathy – I can’t wait to see what the hackers come up with this year.”

“VR is exploding in the entertainment and gaming sectors. But immersive mediums like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality will impact all aspects of society,” said Todd Richmond, director of advanced prototype development at USC ICT. “In particular, VR provides the promise of giving patients more access to healthcare resources for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic diseases. VR isn’t just for games, it can be for good health as well.”

“The leap in psychological engagement from flat video to complete VR immersion could revolutionize a range of human endeavors,” said Jay Iorio, director of innovation, IEEE Standards Association. “One of the most important new capabilities will be the ability to experience — not simply watch — another person’s reality. Empathy is always in short supply, and VR offers an unprecedentedly powerful way to inhabit others’ concerns and worldview. In the medical community, this ability could transform doctor-patient relationships and begin to obliterate the false distinction between the mind and the body. USC is in the forefront of these exciting new developments, and the IEEE is again delighted to be collaborating with the university’s leaders in this transformative field.”

“These successful hackathons have only been possible because of the collaboration we have with USC Institute of Creative Technologies and the support of our sponsor, IEEE,” continued Saxon. “Their support helps bring our envisioneering of digital health solutions to life.”

Each year the USC CBC offers a competition for designers, programmers, clinicians, and others to use digital tools to promote imaginative, innovative, disruptive, next-generation digital health products that empower consumers. This is the second year the competition has focused on VR as the delivery tool for unbounded imagination in improving medicine and patient experience.

Last year’s winners of the first VR Hackathon were Brian Cohn, Dilan Shah and Serhan Ulkumen who created “20/20 Hindsight,” a virtual reality experience aiming to show users the effects of retinal myopic degeneration. The target patient group for their product is individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes, as they are at an increased risk of developing eye diseases that can cause vision impairment and blindness (e.g., retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma) if they don’t have regular eye exams, maintain a steady blood-sugar level, take prescribed medications, follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and avoid smoking.

In 2014, the USC CBC SLAM contest, sponsored by Skullcandy, was won by SingFit, an innovative company that uses music therapy for those with everything from dementia, autism, depression, chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease through the power of sing-along through a mobile app. Winners of previous USC CBC competitions have included LumoBack, a start-up with a posture sensor, and Vampire Rancher, a mobile social gaming platform for children with diabetes.

USC Center for Body Computing