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Where the virtual world and reality meet

Thu, 11/19/2009 - 11:55am
European Commission

The experience induction machine is a room at the pinnacle of virtual reality research. Its touch-sensitive tiles and captivating animations help to form a credible virtual experience. The construction of this machine is part of the PRESENCCIA project and should help researchers to study the role of humans in a mixed (physical and virtual) reality environment.

During the construction of the experience induction machine Professor Paul Verschure, of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, and his team had to consider how a human brain interprets the real world and their engineering had to meet the psychological demands of the brain. For example, the animations within the space cannot jump about unexpectedly; there must be a continuous flow of stimuli that satisfy the expectations of all the observers in the room.

Paul Verschure is working with colleagues all over Europe on human computer interaction. They are working towards a new kind of interface that does not rely on screens, a keyboard or a mouse. Petar Horki, a Masters student at TU Graz in Austria, can move through a virtual environment using only the power of thought. The sensors react to his brain activity when he imagines he is walking and the virtual room around him reacts accordingly. An obvious application for this would be in helping those with disabilities. For developing the technologies for such applications, virtual reality offers a cheap and safe medium.

The company g.tec are also in Graz developing similar tools. Here electrodes are connected to the user's head to measure brain activity while he or she watch randomly flashing icons on a computer screen. The measurements can be used to train the computer to respond to specific brain activity. As such, one can type words or navigate without the need of a keyboard or mouse. Studies carried out by g.tec showed that about 80 percent of people can operate this system after 5 minutes of personal EEG (Electroencephalography) data has been recorded.

Still, controlling computers with brain signals is just one part of PRESENCCIA. The other focus is finding out how virtual reality can be used to better understand ourselves. The project coordinator, Mel Slater, believes that the ability to use our bodies as we do in the real world is a key feature in creating a believable virtual reality. It seems that the brain can readily be tricked if one is able to interact with an environment on human scale: turning the head to look around, bending down to pick something up, using the body in a natural way.

This ideas are what makes the experience induction machine so unique. This machine could be used for training simulations, gaming, or even a new generation of cinema. While keeping everything at a realistic human scale, our brains will interpret the environment as if it were real.

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