Traveling is a luxury for anyone, but for the kids battling a variety of illnesses at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, it’s nearly impossible. That’s why the medical institution has partnered with travel company Expedia to launch a pilot program today called “Dream Adventures,” which offers child patients “travel” opportunities via immersive virtual reality.
“We believe travel helps shape your views and makes the world a better place," Vic Walia, senior director of brand marketing at Expedia, told TODAY in an email. "This is why we build tools and technology to get more people out there. This initiative with St. Jude is our way of bringing the power of travel to those who cannot travel themselves.”
Initially offered to four patients at the St. Jude campus in Memphis, Tennessee, the program enables children to see various destinations around the world — like Patagonia in South America and even under the ocean — via a live feed from 360-degree cameras, positioned and manned by Expedia employees at these places. The patients sit inside a four-walled virtual reality room, where they were able to explore a location, and direct and interact with a tour guide.
One little girl named Kiara, who loves horses, got transported to Argentina through the technology to see wild horses on a grassy plain. While another patient named Hannah experienced an underwater adventure.
"I've always wanted to go scuba diving," she says in a video. "I got to escape and kind of relax. It really took my mind off things."
While this initial experience was created for just a few children, the company’s intent is to build an installation on the St. Jude campus as soon as possible.
“We have a long-standing history of supporting the amazing work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital," Walia said, "and we were so honored to be able to bring this experience to these brave kids.”