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Monday, 11 July 2016 17:55

'Virtual Reality, bring it on'

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Not so long ago I attended a Virtual Reality workshop, hosted by Maneesh Juneja, Digital Health Futurist.

Before attending I spoke with my GP to be sure virtual reality would not be detrimental to my condition and would be a recommendation to anybody using this equipment - for me the possibility of dizziness, nauseousness, both or neither.  Dizziness I suffer with anyway so nothing out of the ordinary.

I was delighted to meet up with Mannish again and to meet Mike, Shirley and Helen for the first time, all people I have met thanks to Twitter.

I knew there were various headsets to try, and was intrigued as to how this might impact on Health and Social Care.

Maneesh presented himself very clearly and had a very accessible presentation and covered a lot that day. 

It became very clear the first obstacle would be price, something that all too often denies so many access to great state of the art technology and equipment.

Samsung brought out a headset, however in the first month or so of release they gave them out for free to anybody purchasing the latest Samsung mobile.

As an iPhone user, both familiar and reliant on it’s accessibility features, I have never considered a Samsung and therefore not aware of any free handouts.   

Similarly to Samsung, LG brought out a headset however it is only compatible with one phone, the latest LG mobile phone,  again another phone I am not familiar with. 

The one similarity of all of these smartphones have, including iPhone is the price obstacle. 

For many price immediately makes them inaccessible and as we are learning, can restrict from further access to a whole number of tools that can help enable and enhanced new experiences. 

The various tools I speak of, that both iPhone and Android have access to are apps.  Apps open up a whole new world of experiences for anybody of all types, gamers, educators, children, adults, the disabled, creatives and many more. Nearly everything you correspond with daily, has an app. Dominos has an app, lastminute.com has an app, talking tools for the Visually impaired, lots of apps. 

You get my point.

The first gadget we were showed was perhaps the most affordable way of accessing a VR experience. 

Google Cardboard; We we each given a cardboard box, and followed Maneesh’s instructions to unfold and build the box into a mini headset. It looked easy, however it was tricky. 

Once made, we were told we could visit new places and have a true immersive experience just through this cardboard box.

We were all handed an HTC phone which would tuck neatly into the headset.  Just before tucking it in we had a selection of apps to look through and decide what we wanted to experience. 

I picked a roller coaster immersion. I placed the goggles on my face and Maneesh handed me headphones to place over my hearing aids. 

It was immersive. I was sat on a tram, I could hear the rattling underneath, I had a view. The view was what caught me, dare I look all around me, the view was there!

The whole 360 experience, that is what made is so immersive for me, I haven’t had 360 vision for almost 10 years!

I was there, I was in the scene, not to mention the rollercoaster flew me around some twists and bends, so quickly it took my breath away.

I’d never really been “a gamer” but now I could see how easily people do get hooked on this sort of experience. 

The lady beside me was also deaf and chose to experience a different app, a ‘game’ intended to provide empathy for those with a depressive disorder.  Using the goggles with full 360 degrees you are inside someone’s brain, and focussing on finding ‘bad thoughts,’ look at them until they disappear. The app also had close captions (perfect for the deaf) for you to read as you went and learn a bit more about somebody living with depression. 

It was here that we all learnt how gadgets like this can really create a more realistic empathy for those who need it. 

Imagine, those working in Health and Social, specialists, consultants, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, care workers, support workers also teachers, employers all needing to really understand the people they work with or alongside.

Virtual Reality could immerse and bring a clearer understanding, I could so see this being brilliant for people with Usher Syndrome and other conditions not seen everyday but requiring expertise to support appropriately.

I was particularly intrigued by this game having suffered depression and anxiety I decided to have a go myself.  

The closed captions didn’t work for me, seemed out of focus,  having Usher Syndrome /RP my depth precision is useless so, I put this down to my condition. The whole experience is so immersive, there are layers of what you see which makes it so realistic however my lack of depth perception meant I couldn’t fully experience it.  The headset is fantastic but not a magic wand to take away my level of blindness albeit I was definitely found myself having a level of empathy in the game. 

The following headset shown was a little more upmarket. The Oculus Rift.

Once the slightly bigger, heavier headset and headphones were placed on my head, I could understand why they were a little pricer. I was played a short film collaborating various experiences in one. The first I was in a canoe, on some gorgeous clear water. I remember seeing the water and the ripples and gasping in awe of it’s beauty. I felt I was some part of Asia where it was peaceful, and nothing was heard except for the ripples of the water, it was truly idylic. The next clip I was in a pitch black room full of circus characters, rather different to the first immersion! I remember focusing hard on one character that was up so close to my face I went into my usual scanning pattern to fully visualise his face, suddenly I was spinning. This didn’t shock or unsettle me, I was too stunned to see everything, everything around me, I moved and scanned my head to take as much in as possible. Once I had spun, there new characters, more characters, all standing around me, one by one. They were moving as if they were talking to me! It felt so real and eery. The following clip stunned me. I was in a safari and from what I saw was grey, wrinkly grey. After a few minutes I focused, and scanned around this greyness and discovered it was an elephant, again ‘wow,’ I was in total awe again. I had been immersed into the safari where beautiful animals live. Again I was spun. It was almost as if I was so mesmerised that I forgot to look around me to take in the full 360 experience.

Later on I discovered it was in fact Maneesh who spun me, I was sat on a chair that swivelled and Maneessh wanted me to experience everything around me, everything this experience and headset had to offer. 

I explained my condition has left me with only 5 degrees of vision and patch cloudy blur.  That I naturally focus on a face and then scan around a few minutes to fully understand who or what I’m facing, that my brain pieces together the visual content, a little like a jigsaw puzzle, that’s how I “see.” I had to have been doing the same with the elephant, it was an actual elephant, meaning elephant size and hugely fascinating, yet to me it was something grey and wrinkly for quite a while.  I had to spend longer looking and scanning this one elephant and didn’t think to consider moving my head around to see what was behind or beside me in the safari!  I was pretty grateful that Maneesh spun me around or I would have missed to much, instead I was able to see so much more.  I was in some long swaying grass, and there were other elephants, in fact lots of elephants. I had other experiences with that same headset, including a basketball game that I was entered at, a large man jumped over me and flicked the ball in the hoop. By the end of the experience I was with dinosaurs… Yet again I was in awe. Up so close to a dinosaur I literally put my hand up to touch, to my disappointment, I couldn’t touch but the presence was so bold I could really get a sense for what it might have felt like. 

I was entirely immersed in several different scenarios, different places and it resulted in different mesmerisations for different reasons. It was amazing!

After this experience I could really start to see how various assessments could be performed via these headsets. Mobility assessments for example, how a blind person mobilises in their home in comparison to how they mobilise in a pub. How one can see in the dark and how one can see in the light. Hospitals could use these goggles to experience what their patients are truly experiencing to generate real empathy and as a result offer appropriate care, support and awareness.

I also thought that for some vision assessments, to make appointments a little more bearable, putting goggles on like these to immerse a patient to a beach or football game, anything that will inspire focus could also allow a consultant to assess their behaviours, in how they scan to see things. 

I remember moving my head a lot, my Mum who watched commented on how much I was scanning.

These goggles could perform field tests. 

The possibilities are endless, virtual reality could inspire people to live more positive lives. 

Those with fears could overcome their fears of heights, or to fly a plane. Or those who will never be able to drive a car could be immersed into that experience. 

 For someone like myself getting to experience Virtual Reality through various headsets, it was what I call an “eye-opener,” it also brought to head how little my field of vision is, which even surprises me sometimes,  however, being sat in a seat with plenty of time to explore, I was slowly getting used to moving my head around a little more than I normally would. It was exhausting, scanning is always tiring but virtual reality was an amazing experience.  

I have mentioned over and over how poor my sight is and why I have to scan to “see.”   

During my time at Maneesh’s VR workshop I felt so immersed and fascinated, being spun around I experienced 360 vision or as near to it as I have been in a long long time.

The one downside for me again because of my condition, not only the lack of visual field but also, my depth precision is whack. I could immediately see blurry and out of focus pictures which did upset me  but that is Usher Syndrome for you and that is how I see through my eyes, sadly VR cannot solve that, however, it enhances an experience, even mine with my blind eyes. I was allowed the chance to fully digest what was around me whilst being fully immersed from an office in London to the other. 

The biggest plus for me was how personal Virtual Reality was, and how it could emulate Usher Syndrome / RP for those who work with it, those who care for one with it or for example those at DWP who question these invisible conditions could be immersed as completely as possible. This could help prevent ignorance and generate far more understanding from others.

I have always been about new experiences and making memories, thank you Maneesh VR absolutely offered that. 

'Virtual Reality, bring it on" 

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