Reading in the Dark: Nonprofit Uses VR to Build Empathy for Those Without Electricity

April 19, 2018

Megan Birney

Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have electricity. When the sun went down, life as you know it would end: no computer, phone or refrigerator, but also no light.  Reading happens over the open flames of wood fires, candles and kerosene. For 1.2 billion people - one in seven humans on the planet - this is their everyday reality. Santa Barbara neighbors Unite to Light (, a nonprofit, and WorldViz (, a virtual reality (VR) company, teamed up to bring the experience of life without electricity into virtual reality. Unite to Light used WorldViz software Vizible, a no-coding VR creation and conferencing tool, to tell their message in VR.


“It seems ironic that we’re using technology to cast a light on this major global problem of life without electricity, but that is the power of virtual reality,” says WorldViz CEO Andrew Beall. “Virtual reality allows the user to immerse themselves in places or environments they had never dreamed - all by simply putting on a VR headset.”

“It has always been a challenge to explain to our supporters and funders what it’s really like to live without electricity,” stated Megan Birney, President of Unite to Light. “Using virtual reality, and specifically WorldViz’s Vizible VR remote communication software, we were able to build a scenario where the users can experience what it’s like to pick up a book and try to read using a candle and then switch to our solar light and compare the quality of light and overall reading experience.”

Vizible is WorldViz’s new SaaS solution for organizations looking for cost-effective and immersive methods for communicating complex ideas. Vizible is easy to use for anyone who has made a PowerPoint presentation before. Importantly, once users design an immersive Vizible presentation, they can invite anyone around the globe to experience it as conveniently as if they were setting up a web conference call.

“As a nonprofit with limited resources, finding a communication solution that was easy to use and incredibly impactful is a game changer,” said Birney. “The fact that we get to do it in virtual reality sets our organization apart.”

“WorldViz has its roots in academia, so to use our technology to bring awareness and potentially resources to the problem of children not having the ability to study after dark means a lot to us,” says Beall. “Access to education should be universal; including the ability to read at night.”

Unite to Light and WorldViz will be featuring this technology at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 21 & 22 at the University of Southern California Campus (booth 175).

About Unite to Light

Unite to Light is a 501(c)(3) organization (EIN #27-2942180) with a mission to manufacture and distribute efficient, durable, low cost solar lamps to people without access to electricity.  Our nonprofit organization targets those that the existing solar market does not: children learning to read, midwives and health clinics, and victims of natural disasters. Unite to Light has distributed over 100,000 lamps to 70 countries. For more information visit

About WorldViz

Based in Santa Barbara, CA, WorldViz is an industry-leading provider of virtual reality (VR) solutions for the enterprise and public sectors. Its patented VR products and solutions are deployed across 1500+ Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions and government agencies. Backed by Intel Capital, WorldViz’s core products include Vizible, a communication solution for sales professionals, Vizard, the premier development platform for professional VR application design, and VizMove, the world’s only enterprise-class VR software and hardware solution. WorldViz also offers a high-precision “warehouse-scale” motion tracking system called PPT, and professional consulting and content creation services. WorldViz products and services help businesses solve real-world challenges in areas such as sales, product design, education, training, marketing, consumer research and many others. For more information, visit

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