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The Mill Unveils STRATA Biometric VR Experience


Robert Goldrich
Friday, Sep. 9, 2016


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The Mill has created and developed a biometric VR experience called STRATA. Spearheaded by The Mill’s executive creative director Rama Allen, STRATA generates data visualization by human emotion, tuning into a person’s heart rate, breathing, stress levels and brain waves. The visuals within STRATA respond and react to a person’s physiological and neurological data while also helping to create awareness of the user’s autonomic nervous system. 

STRATA seeks to create a visual narrative of our biometrics in a meaningful and actionable way rather than simply aggregating info graphic data. It is our VR inverse. STRATA was built in the Unreal game engine and is compatible with the Oculus Rift and Vive. The goal is use our own biometrics as a controller, calming oneself to levitate upwards through fantastical worlds.  

STRATA is built on the back of biofeedback experiments that began in the early 70’s. “Information-coded biofeedback” enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance. Precise instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. 
These instruments rapidly and accurately “feed back” information to the user. The presentation of this information (often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior) supports desired physiological changes. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument. 

Biofeedback, in this application, can help users train themselves to be mindful and achieve flow states.
A series of biometric sensors are placed on viewers equipped with Head Mounted Displays (HMDs). 
These sensors measure EEG (brainwaves), GSR (stress levels), heart rate, and breathing (via a conductive band created by The Mill).
This data feeds to an app running on the HMD that influences visuals and audio.
The visitor then “tunes” their biometrics (aided through biofeedback cues that are both visual and aural) to navigate up and down within the environments, changing their color, form and location.
Each world of STRATA has it’s own unique composition, written to elicit a state of calm as it washes over the user. All audio is responsive and changes based on the user’s biometrics. 

The five worlds of the STRATA universe are: Subterranean lake; meadow; floating island; Aurora; and Nebula.

The STRATA Pillow was custom-made by The Mill and hides most of the sensor technology. The user rests their hands on the pillow as it sits in their lap, enabling sensors to wirelessly transmit GSR and heart rate data to the app. 
A chest band measures breathing via chest expansion.
Muse EEG headband delivers brain wave data that measures the user’s state of focus and calm.
STRATA represents a radical imagining for new VR applications, biometrics as a control scheme, and a step forward in responsive immersive visuals. The potential product and software applications of STRATA span multiple industries and verticals, such as:
Sports + Athletics: Mental fitness training to achieve flow states before competition.

Medical + Healthcare: Distraction therapy for patients undergoing unpleasant medical procedures such as chemotherapy.

Wellness + Psychology: Mindfulness training for stress alleviation, meditation, anger management, empathy counseling.

Via STRATA, The Mill delves into the future applications of VR outside of the entertainment sphere. Here’s a teaser short that provides a taste of the STRATA experience.


Creative/Production STRATA was created and developed by The Mill Rama Allen, executive creative director; Jonathan Robinson, producer; Mike Manh, lead creative technologist; Trent Atwood, lead technical artist; Will Arnold, Anthony Dodero, art directors; Eric Renaud-Houde, developer; Lauren Shields, Rachel Start, Ivan Joy, CG artists. Sound Design Fall on Your Sword Music Will Bates, composer.

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