SLENZ Update, No 124, August 8, 2009

Bringing your  avatar to ‘real’ life …

Out-of-body experiences may

provide the  ‘real’ answers

FOR PARALYSED AND  VIRTUAL GAMERS

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The dream of many of paralysed people and  computer-game designers is one step closer to reality with the demonstration of a technique that allows people to physically identify with a virtual body, according to  the New Scientist.

The achievement builds on previous work, reported previously in the SLENZ Update,  in which Swiss neuroscientists created similar to out-of-body experiences in healthy volunteers when they  used movie cameras and tricked people viewing their virtual body into feeling that body being touched.

In the latest experiment, according to  the New  Scientist, vibrating pads with flashing lights were positioned on the subjects’ backs. Virtual bodies were generated by a camera filming their backs and were viewed as though 2 metres in front of the subjects through a head-mounted display. Repeated stroking of their backs, and the sight of the doppelganger being stroked, created the feeling for some of the volunteers that they were outside of their bodies. They reported that the vibrations were felt in the location where the flash was seen on their virtual body.

Because this work confirms that people can be made to feel that a touch on the real body is a touch on the virtual body, Jane Aspell of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who led the study, said: “This emerging field has interesting implications for virtual computer gaming, such as making avatars seem more real and increasing presence in the VR environment.”

“This technology, although currently in basic research, seems to have a very promising future for clinical applications in restoring lost motor functions in paralysed people,” according to  bioethicist Jens Clausen, of the Institute for Ethics and the History of Medicine at the University of Tűbingen in Germany. “It’s important to integrate prosthetics into one’s self concept.”

Although full out-of-body experiences in the lab remain elusive, New Scientist said, the group is now aiming to boost the illusion by inducing the subject to identify more strongly with the virtual body.
If ever realised the implications  of the “out-of-body’ sensory perception will be important  for all those who want to engage, for whatever reasons,  more than their visual and auditory senses in virtual worlds.

One Response

  1. Some other indirectly relevant advances are reported in the article Five Futuristic Interfaces on Display at SIGGRAPH
    (http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/editors/23940/).

    The first article on Touchable Holography seems to offer a whole new take on bridging the barrier between the real and virtual worlds :)

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