Training with Penguins

Virtual Reality App against MRI-Related Fear

Duisburg/Essen (GER), October 2021 - "You hear the noises, but they don't bother you at all". Since 2019, the "Pengunaut Trainer" has been preparing children for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations through role play. The app was developed under the leadership of the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) and the Essen University Hospital (UK Essen). It can already be downloaded free of charge for many smartphones.

With funding of US$117,000, the trainer is to be expanded to more operating systems and will be released in additional languages. A startup, founded by alumni of the UDE, is significantly involved.

An MRI examination without fear and without anesthesia is the goal of the virtual reality (VR) app, in which penguins playfully prepare for the procedure. The smartphone becomes a VR viewer - with instructions on how to also make them available for download soon. Thus equipped, children lie down in a virtual MRI and practice staying still despite the droning noises. The virtual reality application was developed by an interdisciplinary team from the UDE, the UK Essen, and companies from the medical technology and creative industries.

A one-year study at the UK Essen and the Children's Hospitals Amsterdamer Strasse in Cologne confirms the app's success. "The children go into the examination calmer, and they cooperate better," explains Oliver Basu, MD, from the Center for Children and Youth Medicine at UK Essen.

The project "Fearless in the MRI" is now entering its second phase: It will be funded with US$117,000 for three years by the US foundation "Child's Play". "German and English versions already exist, and now we are working on French and Spanish variants," explains Stefan Liszio from the Entertainment Computing Group, who leads the project with Basu.

In addition, the development team wants to adapt the trainer to other operating systems; so far, it is only available for Android. The technical implementation is being handled by "the nix company," a young startup run by two former UDE students who have helped develop the "Pengunauts Trainer" from the very beginning.