Wireless, wearable sticker adds a sense of touch to VR

John Rogers, Yonggang Huang and Northwestern colleagues have developed an “epidermal VR” system that adds a sense of touch to any virtual reality experience.

The device incorporates a distributed array of 32 individually programmable, millimeter-scale actuators, each of which generates a discrete sense of touch at a corresponding location on the skin. Each resonates most strongly at 200 cycles per second, where the skin exhibits maximum sensitivity. The actuators are embedded into a soft silicone polymer that adheres to the skin without tape or straps. The wireless, battery-free, device communicates with a phone or tablet through near-field communication protocols.

When a user touches the screen, that pattern of touch transmits to the patch. When video chatting from different locations, users can feel each other’s touch.

The next generation will be slimmer and lighter, with actuators that can produce heating and stretching sensations.  They will eventually  be thin and flexible enough to be woven into clothes.

Click to view Nature video


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VR + motion capture to study movement, sensory processing, in autism, AD, TBI

MoBi, developed by John Foxe at the University of Rochester, combines VR, EEG, and motion capture sensors to study movement difficulties associated with neurological disorders.

According to Foxe, “The MoBI system allows us to get people walking, using their senses, and solving the types of tasks you face every day, all the while measuring brain activity and tracking how the processes associated with cognition and movement interact.”

Motion sensor and EEG data, collected while a subject is walking in a virtual environment, are synchronized, allowing researchers to track which areas of the brain are being activated when walking or performing task. Brain response while moving, performing tasks, or doing both at the same time, is analyzed.

This technique could potentially guide treatment in Autism, dementia, and TBI, characterized by difficulty in processing sensory information from multiple sources and an abnormal gait.

Click to view University of Rochester video


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VR-enhanced molecular simulations

University of Bristol researchers, Oracle and Interactive Scientific  have used Oracle’s cloud infrastructure to combine real-time molecular simulations with VR, enabling them to “touch” molecules as they move — highlighting the potential of VR in seeing and manipulating complex 3D structures.  The technology could change how drugs are designed, and transform the teaching of chemical structures and dynamics.

The molecules can be virtually folded, knotted, plucked, and their shape changed to test how they interact.  The cloud allows several people to interact with them  in the same virtual space at the same time.

The team designed a series of molecular tasks to test on a mouse and keyboard, touchscreens and VR. This included threading a small molecule through a nanotube, changing the screw-sense of a small organic helix and tying a small string-like protein into a simple knot.  They said that in complex 3D tasks, VR gave participants up to 10 times more success.

Acocording to Bristol Professor Adrian Mulholland: “Chemists have always made models of molecules to understand their structure – from how atoms are bonded together to Watson and Crick’s famous double helix model of DNA. At one point in their education, most people have held a molecular model, probably made from plastic or metal. Models like these are particularly important for things we can’t see, such as the nanoscale world of molecules.  Thanks to this research we can now apply virtual reality to study a variety of molecular problems which are inherently dynamic, including binding drugs to its target, protein folding and chemical reactions. As simulations become faster we can now do this in real time which will change how drugs are designed and how chemical structures are taught.

Click to view University of Bristol video


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David Axelrod: VR in healthcare & the Stanford Virtual Heart | ApplySci @ Stanford

David Axelrod discussed VR-based learning in healthcare, and the Stanford Virtual Heart, at ApplySci’s recent Wearable Tech + Digital Health + Neurotech conference at Stanford;


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TMS + VR for sensory, motor skill recovery after stroke

EPFL’s Michela Bassolino has used transcranial magnetic stimulation to create hand sensations when combined with VR.

By stimulating the motor cortex,  subjects’ hand muscles  were activated, and involuntary short movements were induced.

In a recent study, when subjects observed a virtual hand moving at the same time and in a similar manner to their own during TMS, they felt that a virtual hand was a controllable body part.

25 of 32 participants experienced the effect within two minutes of stimulation. Bassolino believes that the effect may also be achieved through less immersive video.

The technology could  help patients recover sensory and motor skills after a stroke — and also be used as a gaming enhancement.


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VR + neurofeedback for movement training after stroke


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VR studied for PTSD, phobia treatment

Emory’s Jessica Maples-Keller has published a study demonstrating the effectiveness of VR in treating PTSD, phobias, and other mental illnesses.  She describes the treatment as allowing “providers to create computer-generated environments in a controlled setting, which can be used to create a sense of presence and immersion in the feared environment for individuals suffering from anxiety disorders.”

Small studies on the use of VR in  panic disorder, schizophrenia, acute and chronic pain, addiction, and eating disorders have been done, but with limited numbers and a lack of comparison groups. Keller noted that extensive training is needed before integrating VR approaches into clinical practice.


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VR therapy could reduce acute and chronic pain

Cedars-Sinai’s Brennan Spiegel has published a study showing that VR therapy could reduce acute and chronic pain.

100 gastrointestinal, cardiac, neurological and post-surgical pain patients with an average pain score of 5.4 were included.  Fifty patients watched a 15-minute nature video. Fifty patients watched a 15-minute animated game with VR goggles.
The patients who watched the nature video had a 13% decrease in  pain scores.  The patients who watched the virtual reality game had a 24% decrease.

Th researchers are not sure how VR actually reduces pain, but thnk that it could be due to immersive distraction.  According to Spiegel:

“When the mind is deeply engaged in an immersive experience, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to perceive stimuli outside of the field of attention. By ‘hijacking’ the auditory, visual, and proprioception senses, VR is thought to create an immersive distraction that restricts the mind from processing pain.”

Potential side effects of VR include dizziness, vomiting, nausea or epileptic seizures, therefore patients must be carefully screened and monitored.


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VR training to reduce falls in Parkinson’s, dementia

Tel Aviv University’s Jeff Hausdorff has created a virtual reality treadmill system in an attempt to prevent falls in Parkinson’s  and  dementia patients.

Current interventions focus on improving muscle strength, balance and gait.  By integrating motor planning, attention, executive control and judgement training, using VR, therapies can also address the cognitive issues associated with falls.

In a recent study of 282 participants,  146 did treadmill + VR training, and 136 did treadmill training alone. VR patient foot movements were filmed and shown on a screen, in order for them to “see” their feet walking  in real-time. The game-like simulation included avoiding and stepping over puddles or hurdles, and navigating pathways. It also provided motivational feedback.

Fall rates were similar in both groups before the training. Six months after, those who participated in the VR intervention fell 50% less. Those who did not train with VR had consistent fall rates. The biggest improvement was seen in Parkinson’s patients.

Patients can receive the combined therapy at the Hausdorff-led Center for the Study of Movement Cognition and Mobility at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

Click to view the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center video.


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