Snowflakes are swirling around and an icy wind is blowing. You are climbing a steep mountain slope. In the distance, you can already see the summit. You look down and you see a precipice below. You stretch out your hand, move your goggles to the forehead and… you are back in your living room. Welcome to the world of virtual reality!
Nowadays, it is hard to find someone who has not heard about virtual (VR), extended (AR) or mixed reality (MR). There are more and more devices in the market that allow immersing in the created worlds. According to Bloomberg’s forecasts, in the years 2016-2020, the value of the Chinese virtual reality market alone will increase 36-fold and will amount to USD 8.5 billion. And yet, VR is not just about entertainment – this technology hides an enormous business potential, which is increasingly more often used. An example may be Nano Games company located in Kraków, which has been developing professional training tools in VR technology for two years. It has created, among others, the “KRK Marshaller” project, which was implemented at the Kraków Airport.
Thanks to the simulator developed by the spin-out of the Kraków company, you can play the role of an air traffic controller on the ground, known as the marshaller, whose job is, among others, managing planes on the airport apron. The simulator enables interaction with the elements of the Kraków Airport infrastructure created in virtual reality and training in changing weather conditions. The VR-based solution enables training staff in safety procedures and threats in all conditions.
Business and science – there’s no other way
When creating VR, you can decide to follow the path of re-creation, and construct new realities using commonly available methods (e.g. make the so-called “360degree videos”). However, if you want to create innovative solutions based on virtual reality, you have to try a bit harder. Business competences, technology and a good plan are not enough. Cooperation with scientists will be necessary to conduct scientific research that will help solve technological problems. Even initially trivial issues require the help of scientists. In order to create a system for the recognition of complicated gestures used by marshals, it was necessary to go far beyond the usual patterns suggested by VR device suppliers and create own algorithms.
This was possible thanks to the help of physicists from the Jagiellonian University. In the case of the simulator created for Kraków Airport, the problem was the development of an optimal way to travel between locations, which would allow avoiding simulator sickness, which is similar to motion sickness in many ways. Therefore, the knowledge of scientists, psychologists in this case, proved to be helpful.
Science in the service of VR…
The above examples give an idea of the use of expert knowledge available at universities in solving current problems. However, cooperation with scientists goes much deeper. Science empirically verifies the assumptions and predictions of manufacturing teams. When implementing the “Widespread Disaster Simulator” project, which was co-financed by the National Center for Research and Development, Nano Games faced the challenge of developing a simulator of rescue measures that could be used for training small fire service teams. However, its aim was not teaching procedures, but providing young rescuers with specific experience of participating in complex rescue operations. Although it is conceivable that such situations are associated with fear and high emotional excitement, the results of the research turned out to be surprising, as they pointed to the presence of such emotions as frustration and even specifically understood love.
The goal of the manufacturing team has been to evoke these feelings. This would not have been possible without meticulous monitoring of subsequent versions of the simulator using psychological tests. Contrary to popular opinion, these are not just tests carried out using questionnaires. For their implementation, the team of researchers uses, among others, tools implemented by NASA, and even goes a step further by setting global standards in the physiological assessment of autonomic nervous system stimulation by the means of electrocardiography or impedance cardiography when using VR. Thanks to such meticulous and thorough research, the president of Nano Games, Michał Litworowski, during the presentation of the simulator to firefighters, did not present empty declarations – he says that it works exactly as it should.
… or VR in the service of science?
It is an already well-known fact that VR-based business solutions would not be possible without the support of scientists. The benefits, however, are mutual. Without access to virtual reality technology and, more importantly, a team of excellent developers, who are more difficult to obtain, scientists would not be able to conduct further research and projects in this field. Such cooperation results in presentations at international conferences and publications in scientific press that concern topics that go far beyond business goals – for example, the perception of bots (virtual characters) as people (the so-called social facilitation), cognitive mechanisms of sense of authorship, motivation to act or new methods of psychophysiological data analysis.
The possibility of using virtual reality in research is one of the factors motivating scientists to present innovative concepts, such as the idea for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with nonpharmacological means.
Like a diamond
Extracting and polishing the potential hidden in virtual reality requires commitment. This is an excellent opportunity for practical cooperation between science and business. Perhaps the ideas about virtual reality will develop enough to change the real one for the better?