2019 02 25

How Virtual Reality Can Solve Real Problems?

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We should not believe that technologies of virtual reality are only needed for games and other forms of entertainment. They provide much wider possibilities of application. Lithuanian scientists are ready to offer solutions of virtual and augmented reality, which are helpful in rehabilitation, promote physical activity, support companies to organise staff trainings, promote tourism and real estate market, and solve other urgent problems.

“Experts of economics from different countries estimate that global market of virtual and augmented reality should grow from 40 to 80 % during next 5 years. Lithuanian researchers working in the area see extremely wide-ranging possibilities of application for technologies of virtual and augmented reality. Virtual and augmented reality solutions are relevant in medicine and healthcare, education, sales, marketing and advertising, entertainment industry, tourism and culture, production and engineering, construction and interior design sectors, also in other areas,” claims Kęstutis Šetkus, Director of Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology(MITA).

When presenting technologies of virtual and augmented reality, Doc. Dr. Tomas Blažauskas, Head of Informatics Engineering Department from Faculty of Informatics in Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), is not inclined to underestimate the entertainment industry: “Gaming acted as a driving force allowing to elaborate the virtual and augmented reality technologies and to apply them in other areas. When a boring activity is transformed into a game, it will be performed much more efficiently. During workouts with various gym equipment, for example, monotonous movements must be repeated, which often leads to loss of motivation and interruption of workout. Inclusion of virtual reality provides some added benefit, since it helps transforming the boring activity into a game. Virtual reality gamification techniques can be applied very broadly, from education or productivity improvement to healthcare. An essential characteristic of virtual reality is its ability to trick human senses and to make the body believe it is in real – not virtual – environment. This provides a safe environment to diagnose various health conditions, to apply virtual reality for therapeutic purposes or to conduct realistic training.”

Real Health Benefits

Specialisation of KTU scientists is application of virtual and augmented reality technologies in medicine and healthcare. One of the most recent examples is a virtual reality game, adapted for balance training device – balancing platform ‘Abili Balance Analyzer’. Dr. Aurelijus Domeika, head of Mechatronics Laboratory of the KTU Mechatronics Institute, describes the product in more detail: “The ‘Abili Balance Analyzer’ is a balance testing and training device. It can be used by athletes to activate and strengthen the deep muscles, to improve balance and movement control, but also for patient rehabilitation. After climbing on the balancing platform and putting on virtual reality glasses, one can not only train, but also play a virtual educational game, where he or she is navigating a river standing on an unstable log. During the game, accuracy of movements is evaluated, points are scored, and levels of increasing complexity are introduced. The point is to make exercises on the platform more engaging and to motivate both athletes and patients to improve their results.”

The scientists do research to examine the impact of virtual reality games on exercises and they found that such games clearly increase motivation. On the other hand, the virtual reality is not acceptable for everyone and frequently some adaptation is necessary. “Virtual reality makes seemingly simple tasks more difficult, since most of us are not yet used to it. Some people must first learn doing the exercises using solely the platform and later they try balancing with virtual reality glasses on,” tells Aurelijus Domeika.

KTU has special laboratories, competences and experience to create virtual reality products. These evoke interest of business people from other countries as well. Virtual games for balancing systems received some serious attention from Italian company VertigoMed. Scientists from KTU Faculty of Informatics, in cooperation with Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, have also created unique technology to examine disorders of vestibular apparatus, where virtual reality is used as well. Some work is also performed in therapeutics, in creation of virtual reality applications intended to help managing various phobias, such as fear of public speaking.

Safer and Cheaper Employee Training

Scientists from Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) are developing virtual and augmented reality content for trainings. Prof. Dr. Artūras Serackis from the VGTU perceives great opportunities to employ these technologies for training specialists in some specific fields, who sometimes cannot learn in real environment, because it would be very costly or risky. Virtual environment, simulating their work practice, would allow training with lower risks and costs. “Tools usually used in such trainings, e.g. videos or slides, cannot convey the sensations experienced under real working conditions, for example, of crane operator working in his cabin or walking on the crane boom… Virtual reality can become a useful tool helping to assess capabilities of a specialist and his or her readiness to perform certain work,” says Artūras Serackis.

Dr. Adas Meškėnas, Director of VGTU Creativity and Innovation centre ‘LinkMenų fabrikas’, has presented a recently developed virtual reality product for training of pilots: “Virtual reality impressively replicates the cockpit environment and very realistically recreates the feeling of aircraft control, so it can be used for safe and efficient training. Transfer of such trainings to the virtual reality is only paid once, and then it can be used as a cheap means for skill improvement,” tells A. Meškėnas.

Stimulation of Tourism and Real Estate Market

Virtual and augmented reality solutions are also used in such areas as tourism, culture and heritage. “Transfer of cities, famous buildings, museums and heritage objects into virtual reality allows researching them and performing actions that are not possible in real life. For example, we can take a museum object into our hands and inspect it from all sides, to take a seat in a chair of historical value or to have a walk in a famous place avoiding crowds of other tourists. Virtual trips cannot replace the real ones, but they can encourage people to visit beautiful places they have already examined virtually,” believes Prof. Dr. Artūras Serackis from the VGTU.

Last year, on occasion of Pope Francis’ visit to Lithuania, scientists and students of ‘LinkMenų fabrikas’ in VGTU recreated the Shrine of Divine Mercy in virtual reality and presented the famous painting of Divine Mercy with the help of 3D technologies. Kaunas Castle restoration by KTU scientists can be named as another example of augmented reality application for tourism. Insertion of computer projection makes it possible to find out how a building looked like a few centuries ago by simply using a smartphone.

Dr. Adas Meškėnas, Director of the VGTU ‘LinkMenų fabrikas’, claims that virtual and augmented reality technologies are increasingly applied in architecture and interior design. “We model a virtual city and allow seeing how a certain new object would look in it. Virtual or augmented reality can also help selling a not-yet-built real estate object or demonstrating future interior of an apartment,” tells Adas Meškėnas.

Solution for Concert Organisers and Audiences

Prof. Dr. Artūras Serackis from the VGTU presented another interesting solution in the area of virtual and augmented reality: “We are now developing a project aimed at modelling of concert performance in virtual reality. We have gathered a team comprising specialists from different areas and hope to create an innovative project, namely, to develop tools, which would allow virtual planning and rehearsal of concert performance. If musicians request so, it would be possible to provide the service of rendering a concert in virtual reality. Virtual concert modelling is planned as a tool, which would integrate the currently used software solutions and allow obtaining the effect of participation in a concert quicker, cheaper, also in more interactive and realistic way. In the project, we also intend including some augmented reality solutions – creating a virtual assistant, which would facilitate work for technicians, reduce probability of mistakes and even increase safety at work. Augmented reality glasses would be used with integrated video camera to analyse environment and to recognise technical defects and possible safety issues.”

MITA specialists, referring to forecasts from international market research companies, claim that global costs for virtual and augmented reality technologies will exceed the limit of USD 20 billion this year. They also forecast a breakthrough of development and adaptation of such technologies in Lithuania within 5 to 10 years.

Open research and development network Open R&D Lithuania’,supervised by the MITA, has gathered together state universities, research institutes, science and technology parks and open access centres all over the country to help Lithuanian researchers developing state-of-the-art technologies to meet with domestic and foreign businesses and to promote their cooperation. The largest network of innovation infrastructure, services and competences in the Baltics provides over 2.5 thousand services in the areas of engineering and IT, biomedicine and biotechnologies, materials science, physical and chemical technology, natural resources and agriculture.

To facilitate successful cooperation between business and science, the MITA has founded Contact Centre of the ‘Open R&D Lithuania’ network. It helps business to find suitable competences in research institutions, to find out where necessary services can be ordered and to arrange individual meetings.

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