Monday, 31 January 2011

VR: Better than life?

There are a number of highly addictive games available online. Huge numbers of people love playing them daily, and sometimes they play them excessively so.

However, virtual reality may have an unexpectedly good use. A new 3D virtual reality, named SnowWorld and created by Professor Hunter Hoffman and Professor David Patterson, has been invented to try and help burns victims during rehabilitation.

I’ve only ever had a very small burn, but that’s all you need to realise that, unlike a small cut, the pain doesn’t disappear and it can hurt just as much hours later. Those who suffer extensive burns obviously have a hell of a time recovering.

That’s where SnowWorld comes in. Pain has a huge psychological component, and, as eyesight is the dominant sense for humans, by presenting an attention grabbing visual world a veil is drawn between the patients and their treatment. They also have noise-cancelling headphones to prevent sound interfering.

They don’t have to see needles and bandages and whatever else is needed for treatment, and this actually helps significantly.

SnowWorld is quite simple, with snowballs thrown at you by snowmen, and you can return the favour and similarly have a go at penguins and other creatures.

This sounds quite incredible, but it dramatically reduces the pain patients feel, basically by keeping their mind occupied and removing (both visually and audibly) them from their real world surroundings.

The treatment is part of a Horizon programme on BBC2 tonight at 9pm:

There have been a number of technological breakthroughs in recent years and decades in the medical sphere. This one’s pretty simple, as it just involves hooking up a basic VR world to someone during treatment, but sounds very effective.

The use of stem cells, genetic engineering and cloning also hold promise for the future (and some for the present).


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