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Transcending Reality Activating Virtual Environment Responses through Sensory Enrichment (TRAVERSE)
Start date: 01 Apr 2009, End date: 31 Mar 2015 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The goal of this project is to provide the means for transcending reality : to use virtual reality to transcend the self, whereby participants in an immersive virtual reality (IVR) may have the strong illusion of transforming their bodies, and therefore have experiences in VR that are not possible in physical reality. The goal is to use IVR for something that is genuinely new and uniquely possible within such systems, beyond the normal representational approach to VR which attempts mainly to faithfully simulate reality. The research is based on three fundamental ideas: (a) that our body image is highly malleable, and that virtual reality can be used to transform it; (b) that the brain has sufficient plasticity to remap tactile sensations, so that a sensation felt on one part of the body can be associated with an event on another part of the body and that therefore this can be used in VR in order to endow virtual experiences with physicality; (c) that the brain can be fooled into inferring that something perceived in VR is really happening (even though the person knows for sure that it is not) and that there are techniques that can be employed in VR to enhance the probability that this occurs. Hence the research is interdisciplinary, a novel combination of neuroscience and computer science, with the likelihood of benefits to both. The work is organised into three major Streams corresponding to (a)-(c), where specific hypotheses are derived from the general idea and tested empirically. Each set of experiments requires an engineering solution. A fourth Stream of work will be for integration creating scenarios for the testing of the general hypotheses implied by (a)-(c). The main application will be in social virtual environments, where a human participant interacts with virtual characters, or a mixture of virtual characters and other online people represented in the VR. Applications would be in the fields of therapy, physical rehabilitation and entertainment.
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