29 August 2019

How VR can help adapt treatment to mental health conditions, potentially saving the NHS money and freeing-up therapists.

Confronting fears in virtual reality could be the future of therapy after a trial by Oxford academics found nearly 3 out of 4 patients with a serious phobia of heights could overcome it, reports the Independent.
In the study a virtual reality coach guided them around a 10-storey building with a large open atrium in the centre, gradually encouraging them to lean over the edge to rescue a cat or cross a rope bridge. Volunteers who had struggled to approach balconies or take escalators for decades had their irrational concerns banished in a matter of hours, without any input from a human therapist.

“In day-to-day life I’m much less averse to edges, and steps, and heights,” one of the trial’s participants said afterwards. “When I’ve always got anxious about an edge I could feel the adrenaline in my legs that fight/flight thing; that’s not happening as much now…I feel as if I’m making enormous progress, and feel very happy with what I’ve gained.” After his treatment, Dick, a retired paramedic whose severe fear has bothered him his entire life was able to relax looking over a shopping centre balcony, something he said “would have been impossible before”.
Acrophobia, the fear of heights, is the most commonly reported phobia with one in five people saying they have some aversion and 5 per cent of the population being clinically diagnosed.
The study recruited 100 volunteers with a formal diagnosis who had had their fear for around 30 years on average. Half of the volunteers (49) were randomly allocated to the VR group although two were unable to complete the therapy because it was too difficult for them.
In six 30-minute sessions with the headsets over two weeks they began with a VR-coach character asking them to explain what caused their fear: whether they were worried they would fall or throw themselves off the building for example, and explaining basic psychology of the condition.

They then entered the virtual building and at each of the ten floors performed tasks, starting with standing near the edge while a safety barrier moved away or dropping a ball. It then progresses to more challenging problems, such as crossing the expanse on a bridge.
After treatment 34 of the 49 participants (69%) were no longer classed as clinically phobic.
This is the first trial to show the benefits of VR-therapy on its own and the team from the University of Oxford say it could be applied to other mental health conditions and help address a critical shortage of doctors in this area.
“As seen in our clinical trial, virtual reality treatments have the potential to be effective, and faster and more appealing for many patients than traditional face-to-face therapies.” They also have the potential to be much more cost effective. While the initial scheme required months of work from programmers, actors and therapists to fine tune, the equipment is available cheaply and can be replicated widely.
Dr Mark Hayward, of the University of Sussex, said the findings were “very promising” for virtual reality, but added that in more serious mental health disorders like psychosis, these treatments still require a professional therapist’s involvement.

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/virtual-reality-phobia-fear-heights-mental-health-treatment-oxford-university-lancet-a8442696.html

27 August 2019

Can virtual reality improve your sleep?

[Image: courtesy RMIT University]

People who sleep well go to bed calm, while those who don’t lie in bed anxious. But as anyone who has trouble sleeping knows, you can’t always just tell your racing brain to relax and forget about that student loan debt until tomorrow morning. So sleeping poorly can be a self-reinforced cycle. People go to bed anxious because they don’t sleep well. And they don’t sleep well because they go to bed anxious.

New research reported by Fast Company from the Exertion Games Lab at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University has found that there may be a simple solution for some people who have trouble going to sleep: giving them a chance to look at their own brains as they lie in bed.
Scientists invited 12 healthy students into their lab and placed an EEG monitor—or a device that measures electrical brain activity—on their heads. The students laid down and were fitted with a VR headset that contained an artistically interpreted visualization of those brainwaves. The more excited the person’s brain was, the more active the visualization would be, with greater contrast, color, and amplitude.
What researchers found was that after 10 minutes, subjects reported a significant drop in what’s called “pre-sleep cognitive arousal.” That means their minds were quieter and in the state we know leads to good sleep.
While the study didn’t have the subject pool or control groups necessary to be entirely certain that it was the brain visualization, and not just any old visualization, that made the difference, researcher Nathan Semertzidis tells us that findings suggest “the feedback loop” between the sleeper, the visualization, and their brain “is core to the experience.”

As one subject put it in a post-study interview, the visualization was like a tool to relax: “I was drifting off to worries, mainly about work, and [the change in visuals] brought me out of that.”

“The mechanisms which the neurofeedback element of the system operates on is closely aligned with mindfulness meditation,” says Semertzidis, since this system kept people in the moment to avoid rumination and created a sense of calm just as meditation does. “Considering this, it would be possible to achieve similar benefits by performing mindfulness meditation before sleep to move the mind away from focusing on stressors which might otherwise hinder your ability to sleep. However, the downside to this is that mindfulness meditation requires a lot of practice before its benefits can be properly felt.”

Source: https://www.fastcompany.com/90381066/scientists-discover-a-counterintuitive-trick-to-falling-asleep-faster

22 August 2019

How UK companies are using virtual reality and augmented reality.

Advances in the tech, the increasing evidence of its benefits, and the growing availability of affordable head-mounted displays (HMD) has led ResearchAndMarkets.com to predict that the market for VR and AR will grow from $7.9 billion in 2018 to $44.7 billion by 2024. These are some examples of the business using VR recently examined by ComputerWorld.

Thomas Cook
Travel Company Thomas Cook produced a range of 360 VR films that holidaymakers at Thomas Cook stores can use to explore potential destinations before booking. "Thomas Cook was the first travel company to deliver in-store virtual reality to customers, we've been nominated for numerous innovation awards, and we've seen a good conversion rate for bookings made after viewing the VR content," Lynne Slowey, head of digital content at Thomas Cook, said in a statement.
ASOS has worked with AR firm HoloMe to create a "Virtual Catwalk" that gives shoppers an augmented reality experience of clothes being modelled in their own homes. Users of the online shopping giant's app can point their cameras at a flat surface and click a button to see a 3D model walk along the surface in the clothes of their choice. "By allowing the consumer to bring mobile shopping into their own physical space, we can create a more intimate buying experience," said Janosch Amstutz, CEO at HoloMe. "We are excited to see how our technology can be used as a new way to communicate to the customer."

Newcastle Hospital

Newcastle Hospital is using VR to prepare surgeons for difficult procedures. The system uses haptic devices to replicate the use of medical instruments and data analytics to provide objective measures of surgical skills. "We bought their system to train our orthopaedic trainees to be able to do minor procedures in knee surgery," Dr Naeem Soomro, director of robotic surgery at Newcastle Hospital, told Computerworld UK. "What we hope is that once they are able to do that, they can move on to doing operations on cadavers and in real life much more quickly."

Jaguar Land Rover

Designers and engineers at Jaguar Land Rover have been developing new vehicles in VR environments that allow them to visualise the vehicle in 3D. Staff at the Virtual Reality Centre in the company's Gaydon Design and Engineering Complex use the simulations to view full-size models of individual components or a whole vehicle, which helps the company to optimise the manufacturing and design process.  "With the centre now delivering significant results, Virtual Reality work has helped speed-up the development time of the all-new Jaguar XJ and next year's Range Rover Evoque," wrote Andy Richardson, manager of the Jaguar Land Rover Simulation Group in the UK.

BAE Systems
BAE Systems is integrating AR into the bridges of naval ships to give officers responsible for the ship's safety the ability to work outside of the operations room and still see tactical situation data and other vital information from anywhere on the ship. The project is part of a £20 million investment in AR and VR applications that strengthen the critical systems that give warships their combat capability.  "These technologies have the potential to transform maritime warfare and greatly increase the situational awareness and efficiency of crews on board Royal Navy ships," said Frank Cotton, head of technology for combat systems at BAE Systems. "Our combat systems expertise and investment in future technologies will ensure we continue to deliver innovative capabilities to navies."  


19 August 2019

Can Virtual Reality Improve Basketball Players’ Decision Making?

The Guardian reports that scientists from Canada published an intriguing study this month about how virtual reality could improve basketball player’s decision making. The starting basis for the academics at Bishop’s University was that in many sports, teams and players constantly study videos of themselves, their opponents and potential “plays” to learn & improve. However, they wanted to find out if using virtual reality headsets could improve decision making over and above using video analysis on a computer screen because the whole process was more immersive.
To do this the academics took 27 university-level basketball players, split them into three groups: one that used VR headsets in which viewers could see a full 360-degree scene which adjusted in real time; another that watched videos of specific plays; and a third control group.

To start with all players did a number of pre-tests on a real basketball court to assess their decision-making skills. Then they underwent four days of training in the laboratory, with the VR and video group both watching the same 200-play custom videos over four days (80 of which were shown twice, and 40 once) while the control group watched 15 minutes of college basketball.

At the end of the each clip, participants were asked “Where would you move to best help your team succeed in a scoring a basket?” – and then given 10 seconds to decide whether to move left, right, forward or stay put, before being ranked based on their decision.
After four days, all 27 players were tested on a real court with nine other players, who went through a series of plays. At the end of each one participants were asked to move to a location on the court that would best help their team score points, either by receiving a pass or moving to the best position. As in the training sessions, there had the same four choices.
Some of the plays were “trained” – that is, the participants had seen them before either on virtual reality or on video. Others, however, were “untrained” – and had not been seen in the training sessions.
The results were fascinating. Unsurprisingly for the trained plays, virtual reality and video groups “significantly outperformed the control group”, with the VR group attaining 79.5% accuracy, the video group 73.2% and the control group third on 57.5%.
But the biggest imbalance came when scientists looked at untrained plays. Here the virtual reality group “significantly outperformed” those in the video and control groups – with a 78.9% decision accuracy score compared with 60.9% and 60.2%.
So why did the virtual reality group do so much better? The likeliest reason, the researchers believe, is the videos presented in the VR headset looked closer to what would be perceived on a real basketball court and therefore were more immersive. But whatever the reason, they believe: “The superior gains obtained with virtual reality simulation combined with the enhanced accessibility of this technology make it a very appealing strategy to further optimise the development of athletes.” This therefore could lead to new training regimes for athletes using the VR headsets.
Source: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/jul/15/artificial-intelligence-poker-basketball-virtual-reality

See also: https://www.omnivirt.com/blog/virtual-reality-nba/

15 August 2019

Trainingscapes and Discourse on GCloud

We're pleased to announce that Trainingscapes, our immersive 3D/VR authoring and delivery system, and Discourse, our on and off-line chatbot authoring system have both been accepted onto the UK Government's GCloud 11 catalogue. This will make it easier for UK public sector organisations to buy these services and work with us to increase the use of VR and conversational AI in the public sector.

If you have a GCloud account you can find our services at: https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/g-cloud/search?q=daden&lot=cloud-software

If you have any questions about these services or  specific GCloud details then please drop us a line at info@daden.co.uk.

8 August 2019

David speaking at the BrumAI Meetup in September

David will be speaking at the BrumAI Meetup in September. Details are:

Tuesday, 24 September 2019
6:30 pm to 8:30 pm

Aston University Lecture Theatre MB419
Aston University Main Building · Birmingham

Register at https://www.meetup.com/en-AU/brum-ai/events/263802176/

David will speak about the work that his company Daden has done with Chatbots since the early 2000s, and where he sees chatbots fitting into a bigger picture of virtual humans and artificial intelligence. In particular David will talk about Daden's work on virtual personas and semantic knowledge graphs the role they could play in corporate knowledge management, and the ethical issues they raise as pre-cursors to a form of digital immortality.

6 August 2019

Virtual Reality Glove allows wearers to grasp and 'feel' digital objects, which could revolutionise gaming & remote surgery.

A glove that lets users 'feel' virtual reality objects as if they were the real thing is set to revolutionise gaming. Allowing players to touch — as well as see — the action had been a development that virtual reality technology has until now failed to satisfactorily overcome. 

Existing glove-like systems that provide physical feedback had either provided less-than-realistic vibrations or have been bulky and impractical.

Korean scientists have come up with an alternative — a fine and lightweight mitt made from silicone that expands to allow users to experience pressure. With the glove, gamers can interpret the size and shape of a virtual object — even though such are just computer-generated simulations.

Designed by Korea Institute of Science and Technology roboticist Youngsu Cha and colleagues, the VR glove has sensors on the thumb, index and middle fingers and can fake the sensation of handling, prodding or stroking a host of different materials.

The device allows the wearer to manipulate a virtual hand to pick up an object in virtual reality and feel its shape. As you move your hand towards the virtual object, your finger movements are detected by sensors in
the glove. Data from the sensors are transferred via Bluetooth to a software programme that recreates the corresponding movements of a virtual hand on a screen.

Taking hold of the virtual object triggers switches, or actuators, made out of a soft and lightweight form of silicone developed by Dr Cha and colleagues. The switches receive a signal from the simulated environment which causes air inside them to move, expanding the silicone in their centre.

The device could be used for a myriad of applications — from games, to remote surgery and even creating hyper-realistic recreations of ancient civilisations that users could tangibly interact with.

'There are many gloves for virtual reality. However, their feedback is based on vibration. Mine is based on pressing,' said Dr Cha. 'For example, when a user grabs a virtual object, while conventional ones give vibration feedback, the proposed device pushes the skin of the fingertip.' 'It is close to the real situation.'

There are other glove designs that offer pressure feedback, Dr Cha noted. All the designs work by using sensors that detect the wearer’s movements and actuators that provide physical feedback via mechanical stimuli, such as vibration. 'But their actuators are motorised and have a rigid structure. So, they are bulky and heavy.'

'Ours is lightweight — enabling the wearer to feel the actual shape of an array of virtual objects.' Dr Cha says his model should be available to buy on the high street 'within a few years.'

This has implications for Daden as we could optimise the technology to further the 3D immersive learning and training experiences.