River Snapshot: DeepStream VR’s experienced team of medical professionals are using VR for pain relief

by Will Mason • April 26th, 2015

As a part of our ongoing mission to showcase the virtual reality industry’s hottest startups we headed over to River, Rothenberg Ventures’ new accelerator program for VR, for an inside look at (a ‘VR Snapshot’ if you will) each of the 13 companies (selected from a group of 200) in the program, before their big demo day Monday.


If you were watching the NBA playoffs this afternoon, you may have seen Kevin Love dislocate his shoulder. The injury is an incredibly painful one and may keep him out for the rest of the playoffs. Love will have to go through a rehabilitation procedure and most likely will be taking prescription pain relievers to help him through the process. Painkillers can be incredibly helpful, if used correctly, but addiction to the narcotic properties of the drugs is a growing problem. But what if there was an alternative solution?

Well there might be with virtual reality. According to a comprehensive review of studies on the subject of VR pain relief,  “virtual reality has consistently been demonstrated to decrease pain, anxiety, unpleasantness, time spent thinking about pain and perceived time spent in a medical procedures.” One of the pioneers leading the way for VR as a pain relief tool is Howard Rose. He founded Firsthand Technologies in 1995, during the height of VR’s first coming out party. Howard and his business partner Ari Hollander have been working on VR for the last 20 years, recently founding DeepStream VR – a company focused on VR as a pain relief tool.

We caught up with Howard to learn more about what he and Ari have been up to.

Who is DeepStream VR?

DeepStream VR’s mission is to bring software into the healthcare market as a new form of pain relief. So we’ve been—that’s our mission. We want to become the world leader in virtual reality pain relief.

What is your team’s background?

We have a great team. I’ve been working with Ari Hollander for over 20 years doing virtual reality development and in the healthcare space. He’s the former chief of pain medicine at the University of Washington, chief of the pain division at the University of Washington, he’s a very well known doctor.

We have business expertise. We’re developing an AI platform and we have some of the leading AI developers and researchers. Our network includes our internal people who are developing our products and things like that. Because we’ve been doing this for a long time we have a research network, a network into hospitals and research groups and so we have also in that extended network we have lots of researchers who have been doing VR pain control and have been excited about taking this research into practice.

When did you guys start working together?

Well, I started working with Ari, I think we founded—so our previous company was firsthand technology, and so that’s our partnership and we’ve been doing that since 1995. I really think we’re one of the oldest surviving VR companies out there.

Where are you guys at with your projects?

We’re going to be debuting our new game, called Cool. It is designed for VR pain control, we’re going to have a shippable first product in May. We are using head mounted displays and arm mounted systems. We’ve got a first line of early adopter clinics. We’re working with a number of universities including Harvard and Columbia, as well as some clinics to launch a pilot program. We’ve got a series of early adopters that we’re going send systems to. From there we have a step wise progression to grow the company.

The brain responds differently to pain with VR.

Why is the work you’re doing important?

Today if you have pain from injury or from a disease, the doctors treat them with heavy doses of narcotics and the over use of narcotics has become a national problem and it is particularly, especially affects vulnerable populations like kids or elderly. It really affects all of us. Virtual reality is this new solution that is safe and it’s proven. We can target it like a drug.

The potential here is to really change the face of healthcare and the way pain is managed. To give you a sense of the scope, there are 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain. It is a huge problem with procedures, especially with kids and these populations of kids getting all sorts of oncology and all these procedures. Safe doses of narcotics are not enough to dull the pain.

VR is this great alternative to help people in those kinds of situations and for chronic pain rehabilitation to get them to be more productive and to speed recovery. It’s got a huge potential and we’re ready to roll it out now.

Watch Howard Rose’s TED talk on the VR in medicine

What kind of funding have you guys received and who from?

We are working on first round of seed funding. In terms of dollars we’ve raised like $160,000 in funds, including the River. We get a lot of interest from people. We have a lot of discussions and people see the value.  Tangibly, we’re working on a seed round of about 3 million. We don’t need that all at once, but we do want it all at once [Laughs]. That will enable us to scale our products and build infrastructure and things like that. I can go into detail but I don’t know where you want to be.

So how can people experience what you’re doing?

We’re working with these hospitals and trying to get it out to the populations that need it. Our first target is pediatrics, so kids in hospitals who are undergoing procedures. And in pain, we’ll be able to experience it there.

Once we do that, we’re going to progress to doing things in salons. There’s a whole bunch of health and beauty areas like waxing and waxing salons which is incredibly painful, laser surgery, you know laser skin procedures, tattoo parlors. There’s a whole bunch of untreated pain out there in areas of elective procedures. If you go for a tattoo, you’re sitting there for 3 hours, they’re working on you, and it’s really painful.

VR can be a solution for that as well. So we got the medical side, we got this other kind of side. And then we’re trying to reach people at home. So very soon, this partially depends on our funding, but if the funding enables us to scale quickly, there’s a huge potential to reach those kinds of areas.


Companies like DeepStream VR are going to help millions of people, and hopefully very soon. Howard and Ari have already been advocating it’s use as a medical tool for years, and now the time is right for it to become a reality. Stay tuned for our continued profiling of the startups in Rothenberg’s River program leading up to their big day Monday.

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