Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Guest Blog: Virtual Reality is Having Real Impact on the Health Industry

We talk a lot about the potential benefits of VR across a number of areas, talk is all well and good, but actually seeing how it can be applied is when the potential hits home and becomes real. 

Last year at SXSW in Austin, I was lucky enough to meet Sook-Lei Liew, a neuroscientist from USC who had created an incredible VR prototype for treating stroke victims. Combining a swim cap, a standard laptop and an off the shelf HMD she created REINVENT (which stands for Rehabilitation Environment using the Integration of Neuromuscular-based Virtual Enhancements for Neural Training). Yes they worked hard on that acronym! 

This Social VR application uses EEG sensors to provide neuro-feedback when an individual’s neuromuscular signals indicate a movement attempt, even in the absence of actual movement. Stroke patients could retrain their brain to move muscles that have been affected by the stroke - relearning the right brain signals by which to move a virtual arm, which can ultimately lead to them being able to use that rediscovered ability in reality.

I came across a great comment from Mel Slater, a professor of virtual environments, where he talked about the ability to trick the brain: “There is some level of the brain that doesn’t distinguish between reality and virtual reality. A typical example is, you see a precipice and you jump back and your heart starts racing. You react very fast because it’s the safe thing for the brain to do. All your autonomic system starts functioning, you get a very strong level of arousal, then you go, ‘I know it’s not real’. But it doesn’t matter, because you still can’t step forward near that precipice.”

It is the natural reaction that Sook-Lei Liew is utilising with REINVENT, less of a trick, but more like an immersive rewiring of the brain.

As we gain a better understanding of the uses of immersive technology to address key health issues, the number of solutions will grow exponentially. From training surgeons, treatment for depression, to pain relief, the impact immersive technology will have on our collective health will fundamentally change the whole health industry. We’re entering an exciting period of innovation.

James Watson is head of immersive technology at Imagination and will be speaking at Develop:VR with his session entitled Getting Up Close and Virtual with the Automotive Industry: Using VR for the Right Reasons 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Guest Blog: The Possibilities of VR

It is 1911 and the Paris art world is alive with excitement about a revolution in art. The Salle 41 artists have just taken part in the first organised exhibition of Cubist works; images that broke down conventional depictions of space, mass, volume and time. Their work, based on ideas developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, went on to drastically change world art, as developments and reactions to it led to the creation of modernism and beyond. The power of the movement broke through to other genres such as music and architecture and has revolutionised culture and society through the 20th Century and into our time.

Early works in the Autumn Cubist Exhibition, Paris 1912

It is 2017 and the revolution of AR/VR/MR is about to begin. In as significant a way as the Cubist’s broke conventions of perspective, so AR/VR/MR is transforming our relationship with that thing we hold most highly in our culture - the flat screen. We can now enter amazing unseen worlds, we can bring digital creations through into our world, and interact with them in our visual spaces, we can be immersed in stories and experiences in a way beyond anything that has come before.

Immersive gameplay and narrative in Pixel Toy’s Drop Dead on Gear VR and Oculus Rift

I have to admit I was cynical at first of the possibilities of it all - another 3D TV, another gimmick - yet as we developed Drop Dead at Pixel Toys, the possibilities of VR became so apparent - how a Samsung phone in a relatively simple headset could deliver a hugely accessible, immersive VR experience to a mass market, how we could tell stories in such a fresh way. Still the barriers of technology are falling continuing to fall at a dramatic rate: Apple’s significant entry into the AR field with AR Kit will surely speed the adoption and integration of augmented content into mainstream life - particularly as marketers (for they are the primary drivers of mass acceptance surely) begin to invade our lives with interactive enhanced messages.

Image from the Royal Academy’s Virtually Real exhibition in January 2017

A wonderful thing is that our Picassos and Braques are out there right now: artists, developers and creatives taking these nascent tools and pushing them every day to new extremes. Like Cubism and Modernism before, this won’t be limited to a single genre but will be suffused through contemporary culture. VR is already embedding itself into training programmes for doctors, firemen, even fast food outlets. It is entering the world of manufacturing, business, entertainment, games, art. The Royal Academy of Arts, once the bastion of traditionalism, recently hosted an exhibition of VR artworks created by some of their students, and plans further exhibitions in the near future. Jaguar Land Rover use hi-definition VR content to shape their cars as part of their pre-production design and as part of their customer facing sales strategy.

Ultimately the reason for this now inevitable revolution is that VR/AR/MR changes our relationship with the world around us, in much the same way as modernist principles did last century. We need to simply embrace the enormity of that and as developers prepare for the opportunities that this technology affords for creatives, businesses and consumers.

James Horn is lead artist at Pixel Toys and will be speaking at Develop:VR with his session entitled - Drop Deadline - A Visually-Excellent, 60fps, Narrative Mobile Shooter to a Fixed Deadline With a Small Team