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Water-Friendly Virtual Reality

Using fiberoptic technology in clinical practice at Harborview Burn Center

Hunter Hoffman designed and Jeff Magula built a similar fiberoptic VR helmet for distracting burn patients who are in the challenging environment of sitting in a tub of water (with optical engineering advice from HITLab research professor Eric Seibel). The custom fiberoptic VR helmet carries light (not electrons) to the patients eyes (sister of the magnet-friendly helmet described earlier).

Hoffman, Dave Patterson from Harborview Burn Center and colleagues are exploring the use of VR for pain control (distraction) during wound care/bandage changes in a scrubtank at Harborview Burn Center.

See Hoffman, Patterson, Magula et al., (2004). and

A burn patient in virtual reality, wearing fiberoptic VR helmet to lure the "spotlight" of his attention into the virtual world and away from his pain during wound care. Photo and copyright by Hunter Hoffman, UW.

A burn patient in virtual reality, wearing fiberoptic VR helmet. Photo by Anne Schmidt, Copyright Hunter Hoffman, U.W.

A snapshot of SnowWorld (above), developed at the University of Washington. Image by Stephen Dagadakis, U.W., Copyright Hunter Hoffman, U.W.

SnowWorld is the first immersive virtual world custom designed to reduce burn patients excessive pain during wound care. Burn patients often report that wound care reminds them of their original injury (e.g., fire). The cold snowy imagery from SnowWorld is designed to help ``put out the fire'' of their burn wounds during wound care, but the effectiveness of SnowWorld for reducing pain is likely because ``going inside'' a virtual world is uniquely attention grabbing.

A new version of SnowWorld called "SuperSnowWorld" is being jointly created by the U.W. (in collaboration with Worldbuilder Ari Hollander from, and the William Randolf Hearst Burn Center in New York.  SuperSnowWorld will be even more attention grabbing, and will be designed to hold patients attention for longer durations.  SnowWorld has been made available to several burn centers free of charge (thanks to Paul Allen).  Similarly, SuperSnowWorld will also be made available to other eligible burn centers and hospitals for adjunctive pain control, free of charge (thanks to William Randolf Heart Burn Center and Paul Allen).  Contact Hunter Hoffman for more info about how to get SnowWorld for treating pain during medical procedures. Check back in early 2006 to find out more about SuperSnowWorld.

Sponsoring Agencies

William Randolf Heart Burn Center
Paul Allen Foundation


Hunter Hoffman <hunthoff9 at>