- Your background is so diverse, telecommunications, My Recruiting Team, sales, IT, finance and more. What was the impetus to create Virtual Rehab?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] Thank you for your recognition of my background. I appreciate it. Throughout my entire life, I have always worked very hard to bring positive change in everything I do. Whilst I was working in the corporate world, I had the privilege of leading many teams and numerous transformational initiatives that brought innovative technologies to businesses and consumers to make them more efficient in their daily work. As an entrepreneur, I have always leveraged the advancements in technology to allow my business partners to be successful in whatever they do. Nothing is more gratifying than being able to contribute to society. I am a philanthropist at heart. I am a registered UN and UNICEF volunteer. I want to make a difference in this world, which is exactly what led me to launching Virtual Rehab to leverage the advancements in technology, particularly Virtual Reality, to reduce the number of inmates repeated offenses and re-incarceration rates. It’s about time that we leverage technology for the wider social good and to drive positive change within our global community.
- How would you explain what Virtual Rehab is doing to someone who has never heard of Virtual Reality (VR) ?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] Great question. Virtual Reality leverages the use of computer software which generates realistic images, sounds, effects, along with other sensations in an attempt of replicating a real-life environment (or an imaginary one). Users would then engage with this environment through the use of enabling technologies, such as headsets like Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Google Daydream View, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, and others. Most people associate Virtual Reality with the gaming industry. However, Virtual Reality has proven its success in the medical industry, where it has been leveraged to overcome cases of acrophobia, PTSD, along with the treatment of mental health issues. Virtual Rehab is building upon these successes in order to educate, train, and address various offenses to rehabilitate inmates so as to prepare them to integrate, upon their release, within their society. Virtual Rehab aims to give this very important population, who is in dire need of our help, a second chance at life, and allow them to become a contributing part of our community, rather than labelling them as offenders, or bad people, for the rest of their lives.
- What has been your single greatest challenge?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] I trust that the greatest challenge that we have faced so far is in getting federal and state authorities to speak with us. Since Virtual Reality has been predominantly used within the gaming industry, there is always this thought that we are attempting to entertain inmates rather than rehabilitate them.
- Tell us how you addressed it, and what you learned as a result.
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] Perseverance is the magic word. We knew that this will not be a walk-in-the-park. If it was, anyone could have done it. By focusing on the end goal and continuing to chase federal and state authorities, we are managing to get their attention. We have experienced much collaboration and genuine interest from some states, whereas we continue to struggle with others. Having said that, we are confident that we will be able to overcome these challenges with time, as authorities do realize that any improvements introduced will be for the good of everyone. Therefore, we need to continue to push our agenda with the support of the media to ensure that we ultimately reach the goal that we have set for ourselves.
- What is the most surprising thing you have learned from your work with prisons, prisoners? Lessons learned?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] Although we are still in the early days, one thing which really surprised us is the fact that there are existing prisoners who have been contemplating the idea of using Virtual Reality as a way to rehabilitate. Christopher Zoukis immediately comes to mind. He is an advocate of prison education and very passionate about finding new ways of leveraging technology to rehabilitate prisoners. He recently wrote an article where he was exploring the idea of using virtual and augmented reality for the purposes of education and mental health treatment.
- How have these lessons impacted how Virtual Rehab is evolving as a company?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] If anything, this learning is making us even more determined to making Virtual Rehab a success and bringing this initiative to life as soon as possible. Can you imagine how many prisoners out there are thinking about this if Christopher was contemplating the idea? As a company, Virtual Rehab will be focused on the various elements of education, training, and rehabilitating various offenses through the use or real-life scenarios. We will continue to evolve our company as we identify further need in this area accordingly.
- Tell us about the content you will be utilizing and the platforms it will be available on.
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] The content that we will develop at Virtual Rehab will be focused predominantly around education, job training, and rehabilitation of various offenses. We will make uses of haptic feedback technology, which provides a sense of touch, to make the experience feel more realistic. For instance, as part of job training, we will allow inmates interested in becoming mechanics to learn the process of replacing a car battery along with the tools needed to ensure that this replacement is completed successfully. Our content will be compatible with all headsets available on the market, for example, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, Google Daydream View, and others as they are released to the public.
- In the US we have both State and Federal prison, each with their own regulations. In addition to this complexity, each state has its own rules and regulations. You mentioned California being more open to the use of VR for educational purposes and Oregon being more resistant. Tell us how Virtual Rehab will address this challenge.
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] I trust that to my earlier point, we will simply need to keep at it. We will explore multiple avenues to overcome these challenges. We will not only be dealing with the various states, but also try to drive our agenda at the federal level as well. We have a very strong business case, supported by facts such as the $70 billion spent by taxpayers on an annual basis to run the state and the federal prison system, and our ability to reduce that by $60 billion by providing inmates with post-secondary education. Other facts include the successes that Virtual Reality has already realized in the medical field. We have no doubt whatsoever that all of these will further assist us in making Virtual Rehab a real success. Having said that, we need the backing and the support of the media as well as the investors to enable us to carry-on with our work.
- What app/tool/program do you use every day that you would not want to be without?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] At this very moment, all I can think about is Unity. We need this tool in order to build our product and be able to launch in-time. One other thing we will need is our mobile devices. We need them fully charged at all times since we will be constantly calling the state and the federal authorities worldwide, the media, the investors, and everyone that has a genuine interest in what we do in order to ensure that we are successful for the good of our global community.
- What do you see as the future of VR and AR as it relates to mental health?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] I strongly believe that VR and AR will become an intrinsic part of our lives over the next three to five years. As it relates with mental health, we will see much advancement in the use of VR and AR to overcome chronic diseases and illnesses. I have recently read about a patient who was paralyzed and managed to start walking all over again, thanks to the Virtual Reality technology. This is a very powerful result and I foresee that we will be witnessing and hearing more stories as such in the very near future. At the end of the day, everything that we go through in our daily lives has an impact on our psychological state of mind, and leveraging VR and AR technology to tackle these issues will only lead to further successes, eventually.
- How would you define success for Virtual Rehab? What is the ultimate goal?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] The first milestone in Virtual Rehab’s success will only be realized once we commence the roll-out of our products in prisons. The second and most important milestone is when we actually see the results and the benefits that our products have brought about unto prisoners. We realize this would take some time to evaluate and we are confident that the results will be beyond amazing. Finally, our ultimate goal will be to roll our products globally to ensure that we have successfully given back to our global community.
- Am I missing anything? Is there something you wish people would ask you?
[Dr. Raji Wahidy] Not at all. I thank you for pulling these great questions together. The only thing that we would ask from people is to continue to shower us with their support (which has been great so far) and to keep an open mind about the advancements in technology and the ways in which we can leverage them to help, support, and develop a population that is in dire need for our help, support, and development. Thank you once again for your time. I very much appreciate it.