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Virtual Reality, To the Rescue

June 16, 2011
at 12:14 pm PST

Virtual reality technology has been making the headlines in the last month for many types of ‘to the rescue’ solutions. For disaster training, complex community planning, and providing patient pain relief; a virtual reality solution is either available or on the horizon.

Disasters, whether natural or not, are inevitable and horrifying. How well emergency response plans and personnel manage the incident can make a big difference on the impact of the disaster. Environmental Tectonics Corporation announced a one-month global tour designed to showcase the capabilities of the Advanced Disaster Management Simulator. According to the ADMS web site, the Advanced Disaster Management Simulator is an interactive virtual reality simulation system for training incident commanders and disaster management teams at all levels, from on-scene operations to off-scene coordination and planning.

Community planning is not easy. It requires tons of analysis and scenario simulation to come up with plan proposals. A team of Rowan University engineering professors and students will be using virtual reality to tackle the chronic flooding issues in two southern New Jersey communities, Vineland and Camden. According to an article on NJ.com, “The project, ‘Application of a 3-D Virtual Reality Tool for Community Planning and Economic Development: Stimulating Flooding and Remediation in Southern New Jersey Communities,’ will be a virtual test that is a cost-effective solution to chronic flooding problems.” This isn’t Rowan University’s first foray into virtual reality research. For example, the CAVE at Rowan University has been used to test rocket engines and maintain safer ships for NASA and the Navy. Check out the CAVE in action.

Being in pain is no fun and especially when you are undergoing medical treatments which can sometimes cause even more pain. Virtual reality has been used to help offset pain experienced for burn patients, psychiatric disorders such as phobias and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a recent US study, distracting patients with virtual reality, sometimes by using a video game, appears to help reduce pain – and surprising even more so in elderly patients, who aren’t used to such exposure, than in college students.

“I was surprised to see the level of analgesic response that the elderly patients demonstrated, because these subjects had little or no previous experience with video games or virtual reality (VR) distraction, unlike our younger subjects,” said Sam Sharar, an anesthesiology professor at Washington University, who worked on the study.

If you have followed virtual reality news for a while the above may not appear to be ‘ground breaking’ news. However what I find very positive is that these virtual reality techniques are seeing more and more main stream adoption and on-going research is reinforcing the benefits of leveraging virtual reality to solve complex problems. The fact that the AMDS Advanced Disaster Management Simulator is now being used by 11 countries is great news and the notion that the global demonstration events could lead to even wider adoption is very positive. I can’t help but thinking that virtual reality technology solutions will factor strongly in shaping a better society for us all in the future.

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