Clemson University Research Study into Social VR

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Researchers at Clemson University are conducting a paid research study on social VR. According to a post made to the SocialVR subReddit:

Hello! We are a group of academic researchers who are conducting a research project about social VR. The project is about understanding why people use social VR, how they interact with one another in social VR, and how social VR supports their social needs, identity construction, and relationship building. If you have experienced any social VR platforms/applications/environments and are willing to be interviewed, please contact us and we will send you the information sheet, which provides more details about this research. You will be paid a $20 Amazon gift card after the interview is completed. 

If you are interested, you can contact the researcher, Dr. Guo Freeman, via email at guof@clemson.edu.

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New Study Proves VR Reduces Pain in Hospital Patients

Cedars Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles

Today, the largest study to date at Cedars Sinai Hospital of the impact of virtual reality on pain relief was published in the open access scientific research journal PLOS ONE. This study provides the clearest evidence yet that in-hospital therapeutic VR could be an effective treatment for patients in pain.

Here’s a video narrated by Dr. Brennan Spiegel, the director of health research at Cedars Sinai and the lead author of today’s research paper, explaining how VR was used with patients:

The paper (which is freely available to anybody without a subscription to the journal) is titled Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial, and had as its research objective:

Therapeutic virtual reality (VR) has emerged as an effective, drug-free tool for pain management, but there is a lack of randomized, controlled data evaluating its effectiveness in hospitalized patients. We sought to measure the impact of on-demand VR versus “health and wellness” television programming for pain in hospitalized patients.

Patients were split into two random groups. One group was treated with VR and the other (control) group viewed flat-screen relaxation television programming. The researchers concluded that the VR group reported significantly reduced pain when compared to those just watching TV. Not only that, the study found that virtual reality was the most effective for severe pain (i.e. pain that ranked 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10).

Mobi Health News reports:

“There’s been decades of research testing VR in highly controlled environments — university laboratories, the psychology department and so on,” Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai and the study’s lead author, told MobiHealthNews. “This study is really letting VR free and seeing what happens. What I mean by that is it’s a pragmatic study where we didn’t want to control every single element of the study, but literally just see [what would happen] if we were to give it to a broad range of people in the hospital with pain; how would it do compared to a control condition already available in the hospital?”

This strength — alongside the substantial size of the patient population, variety of pain types included and direct comparison to an existing multimedia intervention — helps make the clearest case yet for VR’s clinical potential within the hospital, Spiegel continued, and paves the way for live deployments of the technology as part of inpatient care.

“We don’t need more science at this point to justify deploying VR in the hospital or creating virtualist consult services in the hospital. We’ve got enough evidence now, in my opinion, to begin using this in the inpatient environment,” he said. 

Citation: Spiegel B, Fuller G, Lopez M, Dupuy T, Noah B, Howard A, et al. (2019) Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0219115. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219115

The Institute for the Future Issues a Report Identifying Leading-Edge Behaviours in Social VR

From time to time on this blog, I have covered academic research involving virtual reality in general (here and here) and social VR in particular (here), and it is wonderful to see a new field of research take shape around social virtual reality. One of those researchers is called, aptly enough, the Institute for the Future:

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) is a Palo Alto, California–based not-for-profit think tank. It was established, in 1968, as a spin-off from the RAND Corporation to help organizations plan for the long-term future, a subject known as futures studies. They describe themselves as:

For over 50 years, businesses, governments, and social impact organizations have depended upon IFTF global forecasts, custom research, and foresight training to navigate complex change and develop world-ready strategies. IFTF methodologies and toolsets yield coherent views of transformative possibilities across all sectors that together support a more sustainable future.

IFTF has just released a report on social VR titled Leading-Edge Behaviors from the New World of Social VR:

They describe their study as follows:

On a handful of platforms around the world, a small group of pioneers are hanging out in 3D environments in 3D bodies. They are willing to endure technical challenges, limited content, and lack of standard practices and etiquette to be the first to inhabit and explore new shared virtual worlds. IFTF spent eight months exploring their environments, communities, and practices. Their experiments provide early signals that point to a future where we each have a personal digital body, and content can be experienced in full 3D space. This will have profound implications for how we socialize, learn, work, engage with content, and take care of ourselves.

This study contains 10 Leading-Edge Behaviors: emerging and innovative user practices likely to play out more broadly over the next few years. Leading-edge Behaviors inspire and inform new products, experience and service ideas, and reveal emerging opportunities and implications. Leading-Edge Behaviors are created through a blend of expert interviews, observational and ethnographic research, and horizon scanning with people pushing the edges of new applications, devices, and platforms.

In fact, I was interviewed a couple of years ago by Lyn Jeffery, a cultural anthropologist who works for IFTF, about my own experiences in social VR (which I believe predates the research in this new report).

I was very surprised and pleased to see my own definition of social VR appearing in this report! (Hey ma, I’m famous!)

Here are the 10 leading-edge behaviours in social VR identified in this report:

This is report which pulls together insights and information from a wide variety of sources in an attempt to identify future trends, and it is well worth your time to read through it in detail. If you are interested in this report, you can find it here (the link is a Adobe Acrobat PDF format slide deck). The report includes links to many other resources, making it a good starting point for your own investigations.

I’d like to thank Lyn Jeffery and the entire team at IFTF for releasing this report to the public for free. It’s a truly valuable contribution to the nascent field of research into various aspects of social VR.

Facebook Demos Highly Realistic Avatar Facial Animation

My Twitter feed keeps delivering news nuggets this week! This is an update to a blogpost I had written earlier this year on this technology.

Facebook Reality Labs has published a research article in the journal ACM Transactions on Graphics, which shows cutting-edge avatar facial animation using multiple cameras attached to a VR headset, and a new multiview image processing technique. (The full paper is free to download from the link above.) The researchers also gave a presentation at the SIGGRAPH 2019 computer graphics conference in Los Angeles.

The results are impressive, giving an avatar human-driven, lifelike animations not only of the lower face but also the upper face, which of course if covered by the VR headset:

This is light years ahead of current avatar facial animation technology, such as the avatar facial driver in Sinespace, which operates using your webcam. Imagine being able to conduct a conversation in VR where you can convey the full gamut of facial expressions while you are talking! This is a potential gamechanger for sure. It’s not clear when we can expect to see this technology actually applied to Oculus VR hardware, however. It might still be many years away. But it is exciting!