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Santa Clara University Students Experiment With Virtual Reality To Treat Phobias

SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) -- Virtual reality is past its awkward teenage years and growing up fast. The goggles are smaller, the screens, sensors and graphics are better than ever. And most importantly, they're cheap.

That has finally put virtual reality within reach of very small teams like Santa Clara University engineering undergrads Paul Thurston and Bryce Mariano.

Their big year-end project had to have a so-called social benefit -- something that'll help others.

For these future video game designers, treating fear of heights with virtual reality was a no-brainer.

"You could very easily put this camera on the moon," Thurston said. "You can put it underwater. You can do pretty much anything with it."

Kieran Sullivan is one of the faculty advisers who suggested the students add a feature where a therapist could adjust the height in real time.

She says a powerful and affordable therapy like virtual reality could change a lot of lives.

"So having equipment that you can keep right in your office, where you can expose them to the feared object or situation, but not have to go anywhere to do it, I think could be really exciting for treating phobias," Sullivan said.

"The end goal would be to have a library of simulations that a therapist could scroll through and choose," Mariano said.

What would've taken big budget research teams months to do at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, two college students have done in a few weeks for a couple hundred bucks.

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