VR Technology Reunites Grieving Mother With Her Deceased Child

South Korean documentary ‘I Met You’ shows how VR technology is bringing the dead back to life.

We’ve seen VR technology used in a variety of incredible ways, but nothing quite as extraordinary as bringing the dead back to life.

This week South Korean-based television and radio network Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation released a clip from their special documentary I Met You showing how the company used VR and haptic feedback technology to reunite Jang Ji-sung with her seven-year-old daughter, Nayeon, who passed away as a result of a rare incurable disease back in 2016. And although the interactions are simple and the experience itself is brief, the virtual reunion clearly has a significant emotional impact on the grieving mother of four.

The 10-minute clip shows Jang Ji-sung at the center of a large green screen studio wearing an HTC Vive Pro headset and what appears to be a pair of haptic gloves equipped with Vive Trackers. In VR, however, the mother is standing face-to-face with a carefully-constructed 3D avatar of Nayeon. As the digital model appears from around a corner, Jang immediately breaks down in tears as she reaches out to embrace her lost child. It’s an incredibly moving scene, one made all the more impactful thanks to the realistic movements of virtual Nayeon. 

According to Aju Business Daily, the production team toiled for 8 months to bring Nayeon’s image and voice to life in VR. They even employed the efforts of a child model in order to capture more realistic movements and gestures via motion capture.

“Maybe it’s a real paradise,” said Jang Ji-sung via Aju Business Daily. “I met Nayeon, who called me with a smile, for a very short time, but it’s a very happy time. I think I’ve had the dream I’ve always wanted.” At one point the avatar asks Jang Ji-sung, “Where have you been, Mom? Did you think about me?”. “I do all the time”, responds Jang Ji-sung before reaching out and holding hands with her virtual daughter. 

As if the scene wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, the VR reunion quickly turns into a VR birthday party complete with balloons, decorations, a cake, and a variety of other colorful adornments. The pair sit down across from one another at a white table and share a meal of seaweed soup before capping off the celebration by lighting the candles on a cake; Nayeon wishes her mother not to cry, an impossible task for Jang Ji-sung at this point.

After several other light interactions, Jang Ji-sung puts her daughter to bed one final time. She uses the haptic gloves to gently stroke Nayeon’s hair; as she does, the avatar transforms into an angelic butterfly and flutters around her mother before disappearing into the oblivion.

In her blog, Jang Ji-sung wrote, “Three years later, I now think I should love her more than miss her and feel sick so that I can be confident when I meet her later. I hope many people will remember Nayeon after watching the show.”

When asked why she agreed to appear on-camera during such an emotional encounter, Jang Ji-sung stated that she did so in the hopes of comforting “someone who has lost a child like me, or who has lost a brother or a parent.”

Though the technology used in this project is still in its relative infancy, it’s abundantly clear just how powerful VR can be when used by the right team for the right cause. Harnessing the power of various immersive hardware, MBC made the dreams of one grieving mother a reality. If that’s not the sign of revolutionary technology, I’m not sure what is. 

Image Credit: MBC

About the Scout

Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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