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Dec 19, 2007

Avatar-controlled robots

Via KurzweilAI.net

Researchers at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system for controlling physical robots using software robots, displayed as virtual-reality avatars.




Dec 16, 2007

Mapping the Body: The Bodily Factor in Memory and Social Action

Via Networked Performance






Call For Papers: Deadline for Abstracts - December 31, 2007: part of First ISA Forum of Sociology - Sociological Research and Public Debate: September 5-8, 2008: Barcelona, Spain.

The body is part and parcel of the sociological enterprise. The Homo sapiens’s cultural history demonstrates that the contribution the body makes to the brain is not limited to supporting vital operations, but includes regulating the space and time which organizes the contents of a normal mind. This fundamental property enables our ‘mental ship’ to produce the sequences of movements and events which organize the topographical mapping of bodily experience.

The somato-sensory mass of the brain (Damasio, 2004:314) builds up the connections which the body’s confines compound with the environment by means of neural activity maps coordinated in time. Lacking this mechanism, we would not be able to locate our interactions with the environment or even less, utilize, in the present, the store of knowledge acquired by our bodies by touching an object, looking at a view or moving in space along a path that our bodies describe by moving. We have ancient and genetically pre-arranged circuits which regulate the body’s functions, controlling the endocrine, immunity and internal organ systems and activating impulses and instincts. Taking root is the basis of our way of acquiring knowledge. This insistence on the mind being rooted in the body as a critical factor, brings to mind the need to pay attention to the real development of our brains in the connections in which it is ‘tied’ to the technological.

All the technical resources of human inventive capacity, from the chipped flints of the Neolithic Age to the Renaissance, emerge out! of the relations between bodies, technologies and emotional life. The invention and proliferation of microelectronic technologies and the rapid pace of their constant development and application – mostly in the developed world – introduced today a new phase not only in the role of technologies in human’s life but also brought about serious consequences for almost all aspects of the individual’s life and social relations. We refer to those technologies that are now fully integrated into, and an unremarkable part of, everyday life. It also deeply effects the human body. The physical world and electronic virtual world are not separate, as much current discussions might lead one to believe; in fact they are intricately intertwined.

The present call for papers faces up to the links between social constructions of the human body and the growth of completely, immersive realities (known as Virtual Reality or VR) constructed trough computer software. Human bodies form a basis for social relationships. Although a VE (virtual environment) minimizes ambulatory experience, users interacting with virtual technologies nonetheless constitute material phenomena engaged in practices. For example, users wearing Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) confirm a sense that technologies such as VR are able to obtain a grip on human bodies. We have now a new economy of presence within which we continually choose among the possibilities of synchronous and asynchronous communication, presence and virtual presence. Therefore we need to consider the roles of virtual places as well as physical ones, of electronic connections as well as asynchronous encounters and transactions in addition to synchronous ones.

The Program of the WG03 The Body in the Social Sciences at the first Barcelona Forum of Sociology is aimed to analyzing the complex interaction between the material and immaterial aspects of electronic technologies shaping today the ‘digital mind’ by considering the body as the crucial factor making up the relations between humans, technologies and affective life. The sorts of questions that this call addresses here include: How do technologies and the body contribute to the social, while being themselves heterogeneous? What are the sorts of relations into which these social, technological and bodily entities enter? Can we draw boundaries and borders around or through a nexus of relations in order to identify particular heterogeneous bodies, and what might such an identification offer us analytically?

The sessions organized by the Working Group 03 The Body in the Social Sciences will provide opportunities to elaborate an innovative methodological framework tracing the ways in which the bodies and technologies interweave in the interfaces between off and on line. Particularly welcome are papers aimed to analyze the ‘state of the art’ in body-computer interaction and papers on the processing of memory by multiple-tasking performances.

The following areas of discussion have been identified, but further suggestions are welcome:


Dec 08, 2007

Virtual reality exposure therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder following September 11, 2001

Virtual reality exposure therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder following September 11, 2001.

J Clin Psychiatry. 2007 Nov;68(11):1639-47

Authors: Difede J, Cukor J, Jayasinghe N, Patt I, Jedel S, Spielman L, Giosan C, Hoffman HG

OBJECTIVE: This preliminary study endeavored to evaluate the use of virtual reality (VR) enhanced exposure therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) consequent to the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. METHOD: Participants were assigned to a VR treatment (N = 13) or a waitlist control (N = 8) group and were mostly middle-aged, male disaster workers. All participants were diagnosed with PTSD according to DSM-IV-TR criteria using the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The study was conducted between February 2002 and August 2005 in offices located in outpatient buildings of a hospital campus. RESULTS: Analysis of variance showed a significant interaction of time by group (p < .01) on CAPS scores, with a between-groups posttreatment effect size of 1.54. The VR group showed a significant decline in CAPS scores compared with the waitlist group (p < .01). CONCLUSIONS: Our preliminary data suggest that VR is an effective treatment tool for enhancing exposure therapy for both civilians and disaster workers with PTSD and may be especially useful for those patients who cannot engage in imaginal exposure therapy.

Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality

Via Networked Performance




Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality by Edward Castronova -Virtual worlds have exploded out of online game culture and now capture the attention of millions of ordinary people: husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, workers, retirees. Devoting dozens of hours each week to massively multiplayer virtual reality environments (like World of Warcraft and Second Life), these millions are the start of an exodus into the refuge of fantasy, where they experience life under a new social, political, and economic order built around fun. Given the choice between a fantasy world and the real world, how many of us would choose reality? Exodus to the Virtual World explains the growing migration into virtual reality, and how it will change the way we live–both in fantasy worlds and in the real one.


Dec 04, 2007

The analgesic effects of opioids and immersive virtual reality distraction

The analgesic effects of opioids and immersive virtual reality distraction: evidence from subjective and functional brain imaging assessments.

Anesth Analg. 2007 Dec;105(6):1776-83, table of contents

Authors: Hoffman HG, Richards TL, Van Oostrom T, Coda BA, Jensen MP, Blough DK, Sharar SR

BACKGROUND: Immersive virtual reality (VR) is a novel form of distraction analgesia, yet its effects on pain-related brain activity when used adjunctively with opioid analgesics are unknown. We used subjective pain ratings and functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure pain and pain-related brain activity in subjects receiving opioid and/or VR distraction. METHODS: Healthy subjects (n = 9) received thermal pain stimulation and were exposed to four intervention conditions in a within-subjects design: (a) control (no analgesia), (b) opioid administration [hydromorphone (4 ng/mL target plasma level)], (c) immersive VR distraction, and (d) combined opioid + VR. Outcomes included subjective pain reports (0-10 labeled graphic rating scales) and blood oxygen level-dependent assessments of brain activity in five specific, pain-related regions of interest. RESULTS: Opioid alone significantly reduced subjective pain unpleasantness ratings (P < 0.05) and significantly reduced pain-related brain activity in the insula (P < 0.05) and thalamus (P < 0.05). VR alone significantly reduced both worst pain (P < 0.01) and pain unpleasantness (P < 0.01) and significantly reduced pain-related brain activity in the insula (P < 0.05), thalamus (P < 0.05), and SS2 (P < 0.05). Combined opioid + VR reduced pain reports more effectively than did opioid alone on all subjective pain measures (P < 0.01). Patterns of pain-related blood oxygen level-dependent activity were consistent with subjective analgesic reports. CONCLUSIONS: These subjective pain reports and objective functional magnetic resonance imaging results demonstrate converging evidence for the analgesic efficacy of opioid administration alone and VR distraction alone. Furthermore, patterns of pain-related brain activity support the significant subjective analgesic effects of VR distraction when used as an adjunct to opioid analgesia. These results provide preliminary data to support the clinical use of multimodal (e.g., combined pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic) analgesic techniques.

Nov 26, 2007

Vodafone "InsideOut" connects phones to Second Life

Via Textually.org








Vodafone offers a new service called "InsideOut" that allows interaction between characters in Second Life and real phones.

"Both voice calls and text messages can be ferried in and out of the game, with SMSes running a cool L$300 (around $1) and voice calls running L$300 per minute.

Calls and messages placed to Second Life, though, are billed at the same rate as they would be to a traditional German phone."

Nov 19, 2007

Microsoft ESP Debuts as a Platform for Visual Simulation

Via CNN 

Microsoft announced plans for a new a visual simulation platform, Microsoft ESP, which uses gaming technology to enable use of simulation for learning and decision-making. 

From the CNN article:

As a platform technology, Microsoft ESP provides a PC-based simulation engine, a comprehensive set of tools, applications programming interfaces, documentation to support code development, content integration and scenario-building capabilities, along with an extensive base of world content that can be tailored for custom solutions. Partners and developers can add structured experiences or missions, content such as terrain and scenery, scenarios, and hardware devices to augment existing solutions, or they can build and deploy new solutions that address the mission-critical requirements of their customers.

To support high-fidelity, dynamic, 3-D immersive experiences, Microsoft ESP includes geographical, cultural, environmental and rich scenery data along with tools for placing objects, scenery and terrain customization, object activation, special effects, and environmental controls including adjustable weather.

Nov 18, 2007

The role of psychophysiology in forensic assessments: Deception detection, ERPs, and virtual reality mock crime scenarios

The role of psychophysiology in forensic assessments: Deception detection, ERPs, and virtual reality mock crime scenarios.

Psychophysiology. 2007 Nov 7;

Authors: Mertens R, Allen JJ

Few data are available to address whether the use of ERP-based deception detection alternatives have sufficient validity for applied use. The present study was designed to replicate and extend J. P. Rosenfeld, M. Soskins, G. Bosh, and A. Ryan's (2004) study by utilizing a virtual reality crime scenario to determine whether ERP-based procedures, including brain fingerprinting, can be rendered less effective by participant manipulation by employing a virtual reality crime scenario and multiple countermeasures. Bayesian and bootstrapping analytic approaches were used to classify individuals as guilty or innocent. Guilty subjects were detected significantly less frequently compared to previous studies; countermeasures further reduced the overall hit rates. Innocent participants remained protected from being falsely accused. Reaction times did not prove suitable for accurate classification. Results suggested that guilty verdicts from ERP-based deception detection approaches are likely to be accurate, but that innocent (or indeterminate) verdicts yield no useful interpretation in an applied setting.

Virtual reality hardware and graphic display options for brain-machine interfaces

Virtual reality hardware and graphic display options for brain-machine interfaces.

J Neurosci Methods. 2007 Sep 29;

Authors: Marathe AR, Carey HL, Taylor DM

Virtual reality hardware and graphic displays are reviewed here as a development environment for brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). Two desktop stereoscopic monitors and one 2D monitor were compared in a visual depth discrimination task and in a 3D target-matching task where able-bodied individuals used actual hand movements to match a virtual hand to different target hands. Three graphic representations of the hand were compared: a plain sphere, a sphere attached to the fingertip of a realistic hand and arm, and a stylized pacman-like hand. Several subjects had great difficulty using either stereo monitor for depth perception when perspective size cues were removed. A mismatch in stereo and size cues generated inappropriate depth illusions. This phenomenon has implications for choosing target and virtual hand sizes in BMI experiments. Target-matching accuracy was about as good with the 2D monitor as with either 3D monitor. However, users achieved this accuracy by exploring the boundaries of the hand in the target with carefully controlled movements. This method of determining relative depth may not be possible in BMI experiments if movement control is more limited. Intuitive depth cues, such as including a virtual arm, can significantly improve depth perception accuracy with or without stereo viewing.

Nov 04, 2007

As soon as the bat met the ball, I knew it was gone

"As soon as the bat met the ball, I knew it was gone": outcome prediction, hindsight bias, and the representation and control of action in expert and novice baseball players.

Psychon Bull Rev. 2007 Aug;14(4):669-75

Authors: Gray R, Beilock SL, Carr TH

A virtual-reality batting task compared novice and expert baseball players' ability to predict the outcomes of their swings as well as the susceptibility of these outcome predictions to hindsight bias--a measure of strength and resistance to distortion of memory for predicted action outcomes. During each swing the simulation stopped when the bat met the ball. Batters marked where on the field they thought the ball would land. Correct feedback was then displayed, after which batters attempted to remark the location they had indicated prior to feedback. Expert batters were more accurate than less-skilled individuals in the initial marking and showed less hindsight bias in the postfeedback marking. Furthermore, experts' number of hits in the previous block of trials was positively correlated with prediction accuracy and negatively correlated with hindsight bias. The reverse was true for novices. Thus the ability to predict the outcome of one's performance before such information is available in the environment is not only based on one's overall skill level, but how one is performing at a given moment.

Oct 25, 2007

Darkness-enhanced startle responses in ecologically valid environments

Darkness-enhanced startle responses in ecologically valid environments: A virtual tunnel driving experiment.

Biol Psychol. 2007 Sep 14;

Authors: Mühlberger A, Wieser MJ, Pauli P

Using the startle reflex methodology, researchers have shown that darkness, a phylogenetically relevant aversive context for humans, elicits fear responses. The present study replicated these findings in an ecologically valid situation, a virtual tunnel drive. Furthermore, the study focused on the question whether the darkness-enhanced startle response is modulated by an additional task involvement of the participants. Startle responses were assessed during virtual tunnel drives with darker and brighter sections. Participants once actively drove the virtual car and once passively sat in the car as a passenger. We found more negative feelings during darker parts of the virtual tunnel and during active driving. However, facilitated startle reactions in darkness were restricted to passive drives. Furthermore, correlation analyses revealed that darkness-enhanced startle modulation was more pronounced in participants with lower state anxiety. These results extend earlier findings in an experimental paradigm using ecologically valid virtual environments. Further research should use virtual reality paradigms to address context-dependent research questions.

Oct 20, 2007

fMRI Analysis of Neural Mechanisms Underlying Rehabilitation in VR

fMRI Analysis of Neural Mechanisms Underlying Rehabilitation in Virtual Reality: Activating Secondary Motor Areas.

Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2006;1:3692-3695

Authors: August K, Lewis JA, Chandar G, Merians A, Biswal B, Adamovich S

A pilot functional MRI study on a control subject investigated the possibility of inducing increased neural activations in primary, as well as secondary motor areas through virtual reality-based exercises of the hand. These areas are known to be important in effective motor output in stroke patients with impaired corticospinal systems. We found increased activations in these brain areas during hand exercises in VR when compared to vision of non-anthropomorphic shapes. Further studies are needed to investigate the potential of virtual reality-based rehabilitation for tapping into the properties of the mirror neuron system to stimulate plasticity in sensorimotor areas.

Oct 12, 2007

Cue-exposure therapy to decrease alcohol craving in virtual environment

Cue-exposure therapy to decrease alcohol craving in virtual environment.

Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007 Oct;10(5):617-23

Authors: Lee JH, Kwon H, Choi J, Yang BH

During abstinence from alcohol, craving is elicited by the cues and contexts previously associated with alcohol, which contribute to relapse. To prevent the craving and relapse experienced by alcoholics, cue-exposure therapy (CET) has been used to extinguish the association between alcohol and alcohol-related cues and contexts. This study applied CET, using a virtual reality (VR) system, to eight members of an Alcoholics Anonymous group for eight sessions. Cues and contexts most likely to elicit an urge to drink were selected through a preliminary survey in order to compose VR-CET scenarios: a glass, a bottle, food, and a bar were judged to be the most tempting for people in alcohol dependence and abstinence. Using these cues and contexts, a Japanese-style pub and a western bar were created. Each session was administered for 30 minutes by a psychiatrist and included an introduction, immersion, VR navigation, interviews about feelings, and self-report questionnaires about cravings. The eight sessions consisted of initial and closing sessions and person-, object-, and situation-focused sessions. As a result, a reduction in cue-elicited craving after VR-CET was reported. A mean score of 15.75 (SD = 10.91) on the Alcohol Urge Questionnaire in the first session decreased to 11.50 (SD = 5.76) in the final session. This study suggests that using virtual reality can enhance the effectiveness of CET.

Psychosocial stress evoked by a virtual audience

Psychosocial stress evoked by a virtual audience: relation to neuroendocrine activity.

Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007 Oct;10(5):655-62

Authors: Kelly O, Matheson K, Martinez A, Merali Z, Anisman H

A modified version of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was employed to determine whether exposure to a virtual audience using virtual reality (VR) technology would prompt an increase of neuroendocrine activity comparable to that prompted by a real audience. Following an anticipatory period, participants completed a speech or a speech-plus-math challenge in front of either a virtual audience, a panel of judges they were led to believe was behind a one-way mirror, or an audience comprised of confederates. An additional group that had prepared a speech was simply directed to observe the virtual audience but did not deliver the speech. Finally, a control group completed questionnaires for the duration of the experiment. Cortisol samples were obtained upon arrival to the laboratory, just before the challenge, and 15 and 30 minutes after the task. Participants also completed a measure assessing stressor appraisals of the task before and after the challenge. Anticipation of the task was associated with a modest increase of cortisol levels, and a further rise of cortisol was evident in response to the challenge. The neuroendocrine changes evoked by the virtual audience were comparable to those elicited by the imagined audience (behind the one-way mirror) but less than changes evoked by the panel of confederates. Stressor appraisals were higher post-challenge compared to those reported prior to the task; however, appraisals were similar across each group. These data suggest that VR technology may be amenable to evaluating the impact of psychosocial stressors such as the TSST.

Oct 10, 2007

Google makes virtual world real

Via KurzweilAI.net (CNET News.Com)

Art Gallery - Image 1 

Virtual-worlds platform developer Multiverse Network is set to announce a partnership tuesday that will allow anyone to create a new online interactive 3D environment with just about any model from Google's online repository of 3D models, its 3D Warehouse, as well as terrain from Google Earth.

Another project is SceneCaster, a new technology unveiled at last week's Demo conference that allows anyone to make 3D "scenes" incorporating models from the 3D Warehouse that can then be attached to blogs or Facebook pages or even to Flickr.

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Sep 27, 2007

Use of Virtual Reality in Children With Cerebral Palsy

Use of Virtual Reality to Improve Upper-Extremity Control in Children With Cerebral Palsy: A Single-Subject Design.

Phys Ther. 2007 Sep 25;

Authors: Chen YP, Kang LJ, Chuang TY, Doong JL, Lee SJ, Tsai MW, Jeng SF, Sung WH

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE:/b> Virtual reality (VR) creates an exercise environment in which the intensity of practice and positive feedback can be systematically manipulated in various contexts. The purpose of this study was to investigate the training effects of a VR intervention on reaching behaviors in children with cerebral palsy (CP). Participants Four children with spastic CP were recruited. Method A single-subject design (A-B with follow-up) was used. All children were evaluated with 3 baseline, 4 intervention, and 2 follow-up measures. A 4-week individualized VR training program (2 hours per week) with 2 VR systems was applied to all children. The outcome measures included 4 kinematic parameters (movement time, path length, peak velocity, and number of movement units) for mail-delivery activities in 3 directions (neutral, outward, and inward) and the Fine Motor Domain of the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales-Second Edition (PDMS-2). Visual inspection and the 2-standard-deviation-band method were used to compare the outcome measures. RESULTS: /b> Three children who had normal cognition showed improvements in some aspects of reaching kinematics, and 2 children's change scores on the PDMS-2 reached the minimal detectable change during the intervention. The improvements in kinematics were partially maintained during follow-up. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION:/b> A 4-week individualized VR training program appeared to improve the quality of reaching in children with CP, especially in children with normal cognition and good cooperation. The training effects were retained in some children after the intervention.

Sep 25, 2007

Sensation of presence and cybersickness in applications of virtual reality for rehabilitation

Sensation of presence and cybersickness in applications of virtual reality for advanced rehabilitation (preface)
Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 
Authors: Tohru Kiryu and Richard HY So
Around three years ago, in the special issue on augmented and virtual reality in rehabilitation, the topics of simulator sickness was briefly discussed in relation to vestibular rehabilitation. Simulator sickness with virtual reality applications have also been referred to as visually induced motion sickness or cybersickness. Recently, study on cybersickness has been reported in entertainment, training, game, and medical environment in several journals. Virtual stimuli can enlarge sensation of presence, but they sometimes also evoke unpleasant sensation. In order to safely apply augmented and virtual reality for long-term rehabilitation treatment, sensation of presence and cybersickness should be appropriately controlled. This issue presents the results of five studies conducted to evaluate visually-induced effects and speculate influences of virtual rehabilitation. In particular, the influence of visual and vestibular stimuli on cardiovascular responses are reported in terms of academic contribution.

A second life for google?

Via 3Dpoint.com

There are rumors that google is planning to develop a virtual world like second life, which will require a Gmail account. The speculation was made by Google-watching blog Google Operating System

From the blog: 

Arizona State University's students have the opportunity to test a new product "that will be publicly launched later this year". The invitation page mentions that the product is developed by "a major Internet company" and there are hints that the application is related to social networking, 3D modeling and video games. To complete the questionnaire and get the opportunity to test the product, you need to be a student at ASU.


Read the full post 

Sep 18, 2007

Virtual Reality applications in improving postural control

Virtual Reality Applications in Improving Postural Control and Minimizing Falls.

Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2006;1(1):2694-2697

Authors: McConville KV, Virk S

Maintaining balance under all conditions is an absolute requirement for humans. Orientation in space and balance maintenance requires inputs from the vestibular, the visual, the proprioceptive and the somatosensory systems. All the cues coming from these systems are integrated by the central nervous system (CNS) to employ different strategies for orientation and balance. How the CNS integrates all the inputs and makes cognitive decisions about balance strategies has been an area of interest for biomedical engineers for a long time. More interesting is the fact that in the absence of one or more cues, or when the input from one of the sensors is skewed, the CNS "adapts" to the new environment and gives less weight to the conflicting inputs [1]. The focus of this paper is a review of different strategies and models put forward by researchers to explain the integration of these sensory cues. Also, the paper compares the different approaches used by young and old adults in maintaining balance. Since with age the musculoskeletal, visual and vestibular system deteriorates, the older subjects have to compensate for these impaired sensory cues for postural stability. The paper also discusses the applications of virtual reality in rehabilitation programs not only for balance in the elderly but also in occupational falls. Virtual reality has profound applications in the field of balance rehabilitation and training because of its relatively low cost. Studies will be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of virtual reality training in modifying the head and eye movement strategies, and determine the role of these responses in the maintenance of balance.

VR can help muliple sclerosis patients to improve walking

Via KurzweilAI.net 

Using VR to improve walking 

Researchers at Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, have developed a virtual reality system to enable people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis to walk more effectively.

The system is composed of two main components - a sensory element that measures the movement of the body and a small screen attached to the patient's eyeglasses. The patient sees a virtual floor moving beneath him as he walks, which helps him to remain stable and improve his walking abilities.

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