Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset at CES 2013

Imagine a headset that’s comfortable and affordable — one that also takes you to a world as yet undiscovered: the world of virtual reality. Sound too good to be true? If so, you should have been at CES 2013 with Chris. He got up close and very personal with the Oculus Rift. The dream of gaming through virtual reality isn’t going to only be a dream much longer.

When Chris donned the Rift, his first word was “astounding.” I’ve never heard him have his mind blown this way, and I’ve been working with him for six years. It was pretty awesome to watch the video as he tried to play the game demo using the headset, hearing the reactions as he experienced this for the first time. Chris’ honest responses make me want to play with this myself!

Oculus Rift Virutal Reality Headset at CES 2013The Kickstarter project for this was extremely successful — more than two million dollars were raised. The developer kits will be shipping in March — approximately 10,000 units. The dev community will be helping to build content. No consumer release date has been announced. The company indicates that when there is enough content available for consumers to be interested and need to buy the unit, that’s when it will launch the product. The team doesn’t want to put the Oculus Rift on the market without a sizable game catalog.

I found it interesting that Chris admitted to having motion sickness the first time he played Minecraft on his 30″ monitor, but he didn’t experience that when wearing the Oculus Rift. The images from the Rift are literally on top of his eyes, but it was a much more natural experience than what you have with a monitor or television set. This set will feel like an extension of your vision as things improve such as precision, speed, and resolution.

Could this be the future of true virtual reality? That’s impossible to say, but it’s probably the closest we’re going to get for a long time, and it’s closer than anyone has managed to get in the past.

This team is stellar; it believes in its product because its members, themselves, wanted to play with this product. So, in true entrepreneur fashion, they went out and began to develop it. This isn’t a group of guys who want to make a quick buck. These gentlemen want to develop the best virtual reality headset they possibly can so that they can strap it on and immerse themselves in the games.

That, my friends, makes all the difference in the world — and it apparently shows when you look through the Oculus Rift into an entirely new world.

What Does Your Avatar Say About You?

There should be an image here!Old or young, beautiful or sinister — the choices are endless when designing an avatar or a virtual alter ego. In the end, do people choose one that is really different from themselves? Usually not, according to new Concordia University research that shows in most cases, avatars reflect the personality of their creators. The study, published in next month’s issue of Psychology and Marketing, has implications for real-life companies who would like to reach both the virtual and real-world markets.

“It is estimated that by 2011, 80 percent of Internet consumers and Fortune 500 companies will have an avatar or presence in a virtual community,” says Dr. H. Onur Bodur a professor at the Concordia John Molson School of Business. “There is limited research about these environments thus we undertook the task of understanding the consumers behind avatars.”

Second Life a burgeoning virtual world

Dr. Bodur and a former graduate student, Jean-Francois Belisle, studied the avatar-creator behaviour in the virtual community Second Life. “This virtual world stands out because it has its own economy, where real-money transactions occur,” says Belisle. “Membership in the avatar world has increased more than twentyfold between 2006 to 2009 and has reached about 15 million.”

Avatar-creators were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their personalities and these characteristics were compared with the impression their avatars made on viewers. Physical traits such as hair length and colour, body shape, style and type of clothes provided visual clues about the human behind the avatar.

“Overall, the impressions made by the physical traits of the avatar match certain dimensions of the true personality of the creator,” says Dr. Bodur. “For example, attractive avatars with stylish hair and clothes were perceived to be extroverted. This was confirmed by the personality measures obtained from Second Life participants.”

“This correlation between avatar and creator helps identify the consumers behind the avatars and will lead to improved avatar-marketing strategy. Our findings will also help guide the choice of visual cues in the design of corporate avatars representing real-world companies.”

Fiona Downey @ Concordia University

[Photo above by rafeejewell / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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Canadian Video Game Takes Stroke Rehab To The Next Level

There should be an image here!An innovative use of virtual reality is emerging as a major technique in brain recovery for stroke patients, Dr. Mindy Levin told the Canadian Stroke Congress yesterday.

“Our brains have an extraordinary plasticity which can limit the damage caused by some types of stroke,” says Dr. Mindy Levin, professor in the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill University. “Together with Dr. Heidi Sviestrup from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, our rehab program taps into the power of plasticity to gain the best recovery of movement of the arm by increasing a patients’ motivation to continue with the long repetitive training tasks needed to restructure their brains.”

Her team’s interactive virtual reality training program boosts patients’ confidence and increases the success of arm and hand rehabilitation by having them practice movements as part of a video game.

This enriched environment stimulates the brain to make the fullest use of its ability to re-organize and restructure itself after a stroke.

“Relearning and improving movements affected by brain injuries is an intense process that requires hard work and motivation,” says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Michael Hill. “Research into how to best engage and motivate patients is vital for stroke recovery.”

Sixty patients in Montreal and Ottawa are participating in the clinical trial funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation to establish the optimum conditions for stroke recovery.

There are many different types of virtual reality systems on the market. We are trying to discover which aspects of the virtual reality experience are of the most importance to rehabilitation. Patients in the study fall into one of four groups, explains Dr. Levin. Group 1 is treated with a fully immersive and interactive 3D virtual reality system; Group 2 interacts with a more economical 2D game system; Groups 3 and 4 practice similar games in different physical environments.

“The training program uses kinematics, which measures how well a movement is made,” explains Dr. Levin. “It allows us to understand how recovery is happening.”

Rehab patients play a reaching and catching game where they get a point for catching something with their hand. If they do it well, they get positive feedback from the game system and a higher score in the game. If they cheat, they don’t get the point or any other form of reinforcement, says Dr. Levin.

“These techniques help patients work harder and longer,” she says. “They get out there and really sweat and that’s what you need for recovery.”

So which version produced the maximum amount of motivation?

Dr. Levin says the results are very preliminary but, so far, it looks as if the 3D virtual reality system has a slight edge on the competition. It may be that people feel more ‘present’ or engaged in this environment, much like reality-based interactive video games.

“Novel use of virtual reality has the potential to revolutionize forever the way we think about rehabilitation,” says Canadian Stroke Network spokesperson Dr. Antoine Hakim. “Dr. Levin’s research is showing that by motivating and involving the user, the recovery can be dramatic.”

Dr. Levin’s research was presented at the Canadian Stroke Congress 2010, co-hosted by the Canadian Stroke Network, the Canadian Stroke Consortium, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Jane-Diane Fraser @ Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

[Photo above by fensterbme / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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