VR: virtual reassurance

Athletes were (understandably) nervous about drug testing processes. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority used innovative technology to calm their fears.
An athlete uses virtual reality.

The virtual reality experience has made things easier for athletes.

Sometimes the best ideas come from out of left field, or another field entirely. In this case, the first field is anti-doping and the idea was a high-ball from the world of video games.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) had a problem. Up and coming athletes were scared of the drug testing processes.

Given that testing (or doping control, as it's known in the anti-doping world) involves peeing into a cup in front of a stranger, the fear was pretty understandable.

But how could ASADA give athletes reassurance that this super-awkward experience wouldn't be as bad as the version their imaginations were running/vaulting/swimming away with?

If you've ever had to do something awkward at a hospital (sympathy and respect to all the mothers out there) you know that a reassuring pamphlet, however well meaning, isn't super reassuring.

So ASADA looked to the outside world. Where else were people able to show tricky things in an immersive yet safe way?

Virtual reality to the rescue

The team from ASADA worked with a virtual reality (VR) production house to come up with a virtual testing process.

They filmed mock testing sessions with 360 degree cameras. You put on the headset and you’re stepped through the whole process. You interact with real Doping Control Officers and Chaperones. You provide a virtual sample (by clicking on a menu item), and you learn how each step of the process happens.

And if you're not convinced that it'd be possible to reassure someone that this highly awkward process wouldn't be too horrible, try it for yourself! The ASADA team commissioned cardboard, phone-holding VR headsets so you can try it without needing to buy a headset. The experience is also available (in a less immersive format) on the web.

The VR experience has been a podium-finish in making things less awkward for athletes. Athletes ASADA talk to have reported much lower levels of angst after using it, and the idea has been picked up by anti-doping organisations around the world.

ASADA team even won an Innovation Award for their efforts (along with their new approach to helping athletes navigate the world of supplements, more on that soon)!

So next time you’re looking to help people understand or get used to something, maybe look a little further left field.

Read more

Learn more about the teams who won Public Sector Innovation Awards in 2019

See also

The Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN) was an Australian government network helping public servants understand and apply innovation in their daily work. PSIN ceased on 8 January 2021.

See more PSIN resources or read about PSIN on the National Library of Australia Trove archive.