Notes can be found as interactive webpage at

18: Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality #

Equipment #

  • Headset
    • Made of plastic, rubber, and a few billion transistors
    • Blocks out all ambient light from wearer’s eyes
    • Sensors on headset track your movements and shift the scene accordingly, e.g., gazing up, you see stars
  • Haptic gloves or finger tracking
    • Uses magnets and accelerometers to detect movement
    • Maps onto hands in VR
    • Allows you to manipulate objects, such as picking things up or dancing with someone
  • New developments
    • Multisensory masks that simulate heat, wind, vibration, and rain, as well as 250 scents
    • Can also use VR headset while submerged in pool

Vatican #

VR allows for a fully immersive experience, where you can

  • 360 VR experience creation
    • By stitching together videos, i.e., doing multi-takes, then merging videos using computer or
    • With 360º camera
    • These can now be placed in helmet to capture snowboarding or biking footage

Mixing and mingling in VR #

  • You can also enjoy concerts, sporting events, dance parties, writing workshops or just hang out with other people, represented by avatars
  • If an avatar mingles in a way that bothers you, you can
    • Mute it, making it invisible to you or
    • Install a bubble around your avatar that insulates you from the person

Risks: #

  • Eyestrain and headaches; nausea
  • Real world injuries:
    • Journalist testing VR for an article lost her balance when she reached to press button in the virtual world, falling off stool she was sitting on in real life and breaking her toe
    • A Russian man reportedly crashed into a glass table and bled to death while wearing VR goggles
    • Oculus, one of most popular types of VR headsets, now has feature that allows you to map out a safe zone and warns you when you’ve stepped past the perimeter

Applications of Virtual Reality #

In business #

  • Business meetings
    • Can save on rental costs for office space and hold meetings on a tropical island
    • Supervisor can walk around and hear what people are talking about and join in conversations
  • Furniture shopping
    • Macy’s and IKEA have equipped furniture departments in stores around the country with VR headsets so customers can visualize what furniture will look in their home
      • No need to lug furniture home only to find it doesn’t fit or match
    • Details of room are entered on tablet, e.g., dimensions, window size, wall color
    • Then selected furniture is placed in position and you put on the headset to step into the room
      • Found that people bought more and returned less as a result

For education #

VR is a full sensory, immersive experience that conveys sense of “presence”

  • Research by Eric Krokos at University of Maryland and by Strivr in Menlo Park has indicated that presence improves learning and memory

Virtual science laboratories are supplementing, and even replacing, real world laboratories in some universities, like Arizona State

  • Can be used by students who are unable to afford or access the real thing
  • Also permits students to do things that cannot be done in a real laboratory, like shrinking themselves to the size of a molecule
  • In near future, lab instructor will even be able to “teleport” into the lab to assist students (Michael Bodekaer)

For training purposes #

  • Companies are using VR for training employees
    • Walmart uses VR to train employees in all of its 4700 US stores
    • JetBlue trains technicians virtually – rather than having to rent a plane or do the training at 3am because that’s the only time the plane is available
    • Verizon has VR instruction module in which employee plays a store manager held up at gunpoint
    • 30 Fortune 500 companies now use VR for training
  • Military uses VR for flight and battlefield simulation
  • Sports: many teams, e.g., football, now train players using 360˚ enactment of plays

Health care #

  • Use of VR in preoperative mapping and use of virtual cadavers for medical students
    • Can simulate and test multiple different approaches to a particular surgery to see which one might be best for an individual patient
    • Laparoscopic surgery study:
      • Performance level of novices using VR simulation was increased to that of intermediately experienced laparoscopists
      • Operation time was halved (Larsen, Soerensen, Grantcharov et al., 2009)
  • Loren Sacks at Stanford has developed program for training doctors to deliver bad news to parent of young child or to deal with a difficult patient
    • Gold standard training would be to hire professional actors to run lines with you, but that’s not doable from a financial standpoint

For development of empathy #

“Embodiment through VR can induce can potentially induce a level of understanding and empathy that’s greater than any other form of communication we have today” (Thong Nguyen)

  • Virtual Interaction Lab at Stanford found that even a brief embodiment inside the avatar of an elderly person has a significant impact on person’s attitude toward the elderly
  • Columbia University’s “1000 Cut Journey” lets you experience racism firsthand from perspective of a black boy
    • VR body transfer technique: you watch your body morph into someone else’s while you are looking at your reflection in a full-length mirror
    • You experience being teased by other kids about your skin color, being stopped by the police as a teen, being denied a job you deserve…
      • Produces much greater impact than just reading about these things when they happen to “you”
  • Simulation in which you play the role of a lumberjack, using a chainsaw to cut down a sequoia after learning that similar trees could be saved if you stopped using fluffy toilet paper
    • Stanford researchers found that someone who performs this 2- minute exercise is 20% more likely to use less toilet paper compared with those who merely watched a video about deforestation (Ahn & Bailenson, 2011)

Therapeutic Applications #

For the elderly #

  • Seniors with memory impairments were given auditory stimulation and VR experiences in path finding
    • Showed improvements in memory tests over controls who received music therapy (Optale, Urgesi, Busato et al., 2009)
    • VR can increase balance and reduce falls (Rendon, Lohman, Thorpe et al., 2012)
  • Virtual reality may also be effective in reducing depression and anxiety in the elderly – allows people with mobility problems to
    • Take trip to French countryside, soar through Yosemite National Park, and explore depths of ocean
    • Attend a grand-daughter’s wedding in real time
    • Revisit childhood home

Treatment of pain #

  • Snow World: Participants fly through snowy canyon, shooting snowballs at snowmen, polar bears, and igloos
  • Immersive experience is able to capture attention to distract from pain
  • Used for burn wound treatment, one of most painful types of medical procedures (Keefe, Huling, Coggins et al., 2012; Tashijan, Mosadeghi, Howard et al., 2017)

Psychotherapeutic applications #

Self-counseling #

Effects of self-counseling in VR

  • People participated in a virtual reality counseling session in which they alternately occupied a body representing themselves and one representing Freud
  • Could give themselves advice from the embodied perspective of Freud
    • Experimental participants experienced greater perception of change than controls who simply spoke to a scripted Freud character (Slater, Neyret, Johnston et al., 2019)
  • Virtual reality can change self perceptions in those with eating disorders
    • Researchers (Keizer, van Elburg, Helms et al, 2016) placed participants in a healthy sized avatar
    • Results:
      • Decrease in overestimation of one’s own body size and improved self body image
      • Altered perception persisted after VR experience

Treatment of psychological disorders #

  • VR has been found to be effective in treating PTSD
  • VR can also be effectively used to treat phobias (Goncalves, Pedrozo, Coutinho et al., 2012) (Bohil, Alicea, & Biocca, 2011; Botella, Fernandez-Alverz, Guillen et al., 2017)

VR and brain mapping #

VR can be used on conjunction with imaging technologies to provide new insight into brain function

  • Researchers can present multimodal stimuli with a high degree of ecological validity and control while recording changes in brain activity
  • Results can provide new insights into activity of brain regions involved in
    • Spatial cognition and navigation
    • Multisensory integration of perceptual stimulation
    • Social interaction (Bohil, Alicea, & Biocca, 2011)

Augmented Reality (AR) #

  • Superimposes computer-generated visuals and audio over physical landscape
    • Person still sees normal surrounding, but the digital content is inserted into the room as if it’s actually there
  • Can be viewed on handheld device or head-mounted display
  • Allows you to
    • Superimpose directions over the road while you’re driving
    • See someone walking into room who is not really there
      • Imagine if your mother who lives thousands of miles away could walk around in your room…
    • Test out how pink-flowered wallpaper would look in your powder room

Applications: #

  • Construction: Inspector can walk around job site and accurately align and compare what is being built against the building information model which is projected through glasses to catch errors easily
  • Order picking in factories: Rather than using paper and hand-held scanner, worker can see instantly what needs to go where
  • Face recognition: Police in China are using smart glasses to identify suspects in crowds
  • Collaborative meetings: allows people from different parts of the world to work together as if they’re standing face-to-face
  • Medical education: can walk around 3-D objects and can literally see what is happening in the body, e.g., how the heart moves