The Université du Quebéc en Outaouais is merging wireless motion tracking with video conferencing technology to conduct virtual reality-based therapeutic research.
The school’s Cyberpsychology Lab has recently completed work on Psyche, a six-sided immersive display cube that can create fully navigable virtual environments for research subjects. The project will be used to help treat mental disorders, such as phobias, anxiety disorders and sexually deviant behaviour.
“The subjects stand within the 10 cubic foot box and become totally immersed in the virtual environment,” Stéphane Bouchard, Canada Research Chair in Clinical Cyberpsychology at Université du Quebéc en Outaouais, said. “Six-walled projected system displays images on each wall, the floor and the roof.”
In the cube, users wear a head mounted device – similar to a pair of 3D glasses – to give them depth perspective, and an interface wand to navigate the virtual locations. To enable the virtual environment, projectors sit roughly 15 feet away from each wall, and giant mirrors project images from the ceiling and the floor.
To ensure that users can navigate and view anything they wish within the virtual environment, the school has teamed up with Bedford, Mass.-based InterSense Inc. to integrate its IS-900 wireless motion tracking system into the project. The IS-900 makes sure everything being displayed on the screen is perfectly aligned to the eyes of the user as well as ensuring the wireless wand input device operates smoothly and precise.
“A user may want to move around or bend down and look underneath a table, so the computer has to be able to show you what’s happening there,” Bouchard said. “So, the tracking device corrects the user’s position in the cube, allowing the user to physically navigate the entire 10 by 10 foot space.”
Another crucial component of the tracking technology, according to InterSense, is its wireless capabilities.
“When you’re working in a dark environment, where the user is going to be immersed in what they are doing, you don’t want them to be looking out for cables and other wires to trip over,” Tom Stepsis, sales and marketing account manager at InterSense, said. “With this installation, we embedded our active components into strategic locations hidden in the corner of the walls. They are virtually invisible to the user.”
And the importance of keeping the illusion of virtual reality is one of the highest priorities for the research lab because without it, Bouchard said, users will not react in a realistic manner. He said when a subject’s brain recognizes stimulus and associates it with danger, it automatically triggers an anxiety reaction. In therapy, using this reaction will help people confront what they’re afraid of and translate the virtual experience to the physical world.
“We might have a virtual apartment setting and let our user stand in the kitchen area,” Bouchard said. “They will be able to see their own body through the goggles and see themselves interacting with the environment and grasping objects. For example, we are now starting to use the system for treating fear of spiders and could place a virtual spider crawling around the kitchen counter.”
With the IS-900 technology implementation, which is also employed in a variety of military and industrial training simulations, InterSense wanted to ensure the experience was comfortable and intuitive for the end user.
“The school will be bringing in multiple users each day to run tests and many of them will not be very experienced with using high-tech gadgets,” Stepsis said. “So our goal was to deliver a very comfortable system for these people, something that was comfortable and they could really get immersed in. We also carried that over to the ergonomically designed hand and head gear.”
Bouchard said that his department are in the process of securing a few partners for the project and will be officially launching Psyche in the very near future.