Applied Computer Simulation Labs

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Virtual Reality Report

Virtual Reality Report

The International Newsletter of VR Vol.4 No.5 May, 1994

From The Editor

Sandra K. Helsel

It's seldom in this editorial that I write about a VR application that magnifies and extends the human spirit. But a VR project demonstrated at a "VR and Disabilities" session at the recent Technology and Disabilities Conference in Los Angeles in March was such a powerful example of a technology meeting a human need that I felt humbled both personally and professionally.

The project is that of Dr. Dean Inman, a research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute who is researching and developing a VR configuration that trains children with cerebral palsy to operate a motorized wheelchair.

Therefore, with federal research funds, Inman and his staff have designed a motorized wheelchair "driver's training" package that sits on special rollers. The chair is interfaced with VR worlds designed with Sense8's WorldToolKit software. The children wear head-mounted displays (HMDs) and "drive" through different worlds using the joystick already outfitted on the chair. (The joystick has a special plate that restricts the range of movement of the chair in any direction).

The first virtual world that can be explored by the children is a floor with black and white tiles; a second is a grassy terrain that includes a mud puddle and an icy patch to practice for times when wheelchairs either "stick or slide." A school environment with desks and halls is also being designed as is a school crossing program -- street-crossing skills being dangerous to teach in the real world.

During the presentation, Inman showed illustrations of some of the very young children (one as young as five years old) who were practicing with, and using, a VR wheelchair. The smile - the joy on the face of one five year old, wearing a VR helmet and moving herself around the virtual world-was profound. (The project did compensate for the weight if the HMD on children's heads).

To sum it up, it was one of the most striking presentations I have heard at a VR conference. The fit between the technology's capabilities and those children's needs was perfect.

Mecklermedia ISSN 1052-6242