René Bresgen


Deutsche Telekom launches revolutionary virtual reality game that aids dementia research

  • First consumer VR game where players can help to advance dementia research through gameplay
  • Building on the success of the mobile game Sea Hero Quest, which collected the data of almost 3 million players worldwide
  • VR game allows for more immersive and intuitive diagnostic assessment of navigation problems in people who may potentially develop dementia 

Deutsche Telekom continues to push technological boundaries and its gaming for good initiative by introducing the world’s first consumer focused Virtual Reality (VR) game, where anyone can help scientists fight dementia. 

Deutsche Telekom’s ‘Sea Hero Quest’ VR aims to harness the power of VR gameplay to advance dementia research. The project was initiated and led by Deutsche Telekom, in partnership with University College London, the University of East Anglia and Alzheimer’s Research. The game itself was developed jointly with independent game designers, Glitchers. 

“Building on the success of the mobile game Sea Hero Quest which collected the data of almost 3 million players, we are very proud to continue to push the boundaries of traditional medical research, working alongside our trusted partners and leveraging our expertise in this area.” commented Hans-Christian Schwingen, Chief Brand Officer at Deutsche Telekom.

In 2016, Deutsche Telekom launched the hugely successful mobile game ‘Sea Hero Quest’. It went onto be downloaded nearly 3 million times (the largest previous study comprised only 599 volunteers), generating the equivalent of over 12,000 years of lab based research, establishing the first global benchmark for human spatial navigation and forming the largest dementia study of its kind in history. Preliminary findings from the analysis of the data set were presented at the prestigious Neuroscience 2016 conference in San Diego and the game is now being trialled for use within a clinical setting. 

“The response to the mobile game was incredible” says Hans-Christian Schwingen. “Millions of people across the world were inspired to share their time and their data to game for good. As more people start to adopt new technologies such as VR, the demand for new and exciting content grows – we want to meet this demand whilst at the same time empowering players to contribute to a global dementia research.”

Just 2 minutes spent playing Sea Hero Quest VR collects the equivalent of 5 hours of lab based research. 

Sea Hero Quest VR presents scientists with the opportunity for cross validation of the data collected by Sea Hero Quest mobile. They hope to build on the rich data set collected by the mobile game by using the latest in virtual reality technologies to gain greater insight into human spatial navigation behaviours. 

“Whilst Sea Hero Quest mobile gave us an unprecedented data set in terms of its scale, allowing us to gauge spatial navigation abilities at a population level, the VR game allows us to build on this by measuring subtle human behavioural reactions with much greater precision.” explains Dr. Hugo Spiers, of University College London. “With Sea Hero Quest VR we have also been able to replicate highly credible lab based experiments such as the ‘Morris Water Maze’ (winner of the 2016 ‘Brain Prize’) that would not translate well to video or mobile game format. The intuitive nature of VR means that the study can be opened up to those who might not be able to grasp the function of the mobile game – some people with advanced dementia for example.” 

Previously, data collected by Sea Hero Quest mobile could determine the orientation of the player within 22.5°. With Sea Hero Quest VR, this has been narrowed down to within 1.5°, giving scientists navigational data that is 15x more precise.

Michael Hornberger, Professor of Applied Dementia Research at the University of East Anglia, commented, “VR allows an even more immersive and intuitive diagnostic assessment of navigation problems in people who may potentially develop dementia. Sea Hero Quest VR allows us to measure more intuitively when people are not sure of their bearings, for example by stopping and looking around. VR therefore has the potential to capture additional complementary data to Sea Hero Quest mobile.”
The legacy of Deutsche Telekom's ‘Sea Hero Quest’ is a key example of the company's commitment to technological innovation and its digital responsibility ethos. The initiative shows us how digitalisation, particularly Cloud Services can support science in a positive way. The data collected by Sea Hero Quest is stored in a secure T-Systems server in Germany an all analysis by the UCL / UEA team is conducted on entirely anonymous data.

“Of course, many researchers are already using VR based experiments within a lab-based setting” explained Maxwell Scott-Slade, Creative Director at Glitchers. “This is the first time, however, that experiments have been gamified and designed for the mass market consumer, allowing users to share scientifically valid data via the medium of engaging gameplay, and extending their potential reach exponentially.”

Tim Parry, Director at Alzheimer’s Research UK says, “Dementia is already one of the greatest health challenges we face and is predicted to affect over 130 million people worldwide by 2050.  Research holds real power for creating more accurate diagnostics and effective treatments that those living with dementia and their families really need. The reaction to Sea Hero Quest illustrates the public appetite to get involved in research and be part of ongoing efforts to tackle the condition. Deutsche Telekom’s ‘Sea Hero Quest’ project is just the kind of innovative cross sector partnership that we need to accelerate progress in this important area.”

Sea Hero Quest VR has been developed to work with the Samsung Gear VR and will be available for free from 29th August 2017 via the Oculus mobile platform. Sea Hero Quest mobile is still available to download for free via the App Store and google play.

About the partners:
Alzheimer’s Research UK
University College London (UCL)
The University of East Anglia (UEA)


About Deutsche Telekom: Deutsche Telekom Group Profile