Dec 26, 2015
Via Road to VR
The Manus VR team demonstrate their latest experiment, utilising Valve’s laser-based Lighthouse system to track their in-development VR glove.
Manus VR (previously Manus Machina), the company from Eindhoven, Netherlands dedicated to building VR input devices, seem have gained momentum in 2015. They secured their first round of seed funding and have shipped early units to developers and now, their R&D efforts have extended to Valve’s laser based tracking solution Lighthouse, as used in the forthcoming HTC Vive headset and SteamVR controllers.
The Manus VR team seem to have canibalised a set of SteamVR controllers, leveraging the positional tracking of wrist mounted units to augment Manus VR’s existing glove-mounted IMUs. Last time I tried the system, the finger joint detection was pretty good, but the Samsung Gear VR camera-based positional tracking struggled understandably with latency and accuracy. The experience on show seems immeasurably better, perhaps unsurprisingly.
Cyberpsychology is a fascinating field of research, yet it requires a lot of financial resources for its advancement. As an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor, the implementation of a cyberpsychology study often involves the collaboration of several scientific disciplines outside psychology, such as experts in human-computer interaction, software developers, data scientists, and engineers. Further, an increasing number of cyberpsychology studies consist of clinical trials, which can last several months (or even years) and involve a significant investment of economic resources. On the other side, finding adequate fundings is becoming the most pressing challenge for most cyberpsychologists.
This is due to several factors. First, governments university funding has fallen dramatically in most countries and the trend for the next years is not encouraging. Second, competition for grants is very high and it is likely to remain so. A third, - and perhaps less obvious - factor is that Cyberpsychology research tends to attract less fundings than other allied disciplines, i.e. medicine. Given this situation, what can be done to allow cyberpsychologists to keep furthering their research?
A possible strategy is to improve “lateral thinking” and find a way to optimize costs. This can be done, for example, by taking advantage of free, open source software/service/tools to support the different phases of the research process – design, implementation, collaboration, monitoring, data analysis, reporting, etc. These open-source tools are not only free, but sometimes even more powerful than existing proprietary software and services. For example, a fairly comprehensive set of free office productivity tools can be found online. These include word processor, spreadsheet (i.e. the OpenOffice suite), slide presentations, graphic programs (i.e. Gimp, http://www.gimp.org/).
As concerns the implementation of laboratory experiments, several software platforms are available for programming psychological studies. For example, PsychoPy is a user-friendly open-source application that allows the presentation of stimuli and collection of data for a wide range of neuroscience, psychology and psychophysics experiments. For the analysis of data, possible alternatives to commercial statistical packages include the R language for statistical computing, a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics (coupled with R-Commander or Rstudio for those who are not comfortable with line-command interfaces). And when it is time to writing a paper, free tools exist designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation, such as the popular program LaTeX, which can be used in combination to reference manager software like JabRef.
And what about Virtual Reality? Our NeuroVR platform is a free tool that young researchers (i.e. MS students, PhD students) can use to move their first scientific steps in the virtual realm.
Needless to say, the most expensive budget item in a research plan remains personnel costs. However, I think that by having a look at the many free scientific tools, resources and services that are available, it might be possible to significantly reduce the costs; at the same time, this approach offers the opportunity to support the growth of the open source community in our discipline.