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ICDVRAT 2000 - Full Papers Download

The Third International Conference on Disability, Virtual Reality and Associated Technologies

23rd to 25th September 2000 - Alghero, Sardinia, Italy

ICDVRAT Online Archive - Part III

Session I - Enhancing Mobility I

Session Chair: Albert Rizzo

Development of a wheelchair virtual reality platform for use in evaluating wheelchair access

Colin Harrison, Phillipa Dall, Michael Grant, Malcolm Granat, Thomas Maver and Bernard Conway, University of Strathclyde/Wolfson Centre, Glasgow, UK

In the UK the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 aims to end discrimination against disabled people. Importantly the Act gives the disabled community new employment and access rights. Central to these rights will be an obligation for employers and organisations to provide premises which do not disadvantage disabled people. Many disabled people rely on wheelchairs for mobility. However, many buildings do not provide conditions suited to wheelchair users. This project aims to provide instrumentation allowing wheelchair navigation within virtual buildings. The provision of such instrumentation assists architects in identifying the needs of wheelchair users at the design stage. Central to this project is the need to provide a platform which can accommodate a range of wheelchair types, that will map intended wheelchair motion into a virtual world and that has the capacity to provide feedback to the user reflecting changes in floor surface characteristics and slope. The project represents a collaborative effort between architects, bioengineers and user groups and will be comprised of stages related to platform design, construction, interfacing, testing and user evaluation.

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Simulation of the behaviour of a powered wheelchair using virtual reality

Hafid Niniss and Abdellah Nadif, Université de Metz, FRANCE

This paper describes the firsts results of a project of simulator for powered wheelchair, using Virtual Reality. We have simulated the kinematics of an existing intelligent wheelchair, which was designed in order to facilitate the driving of a powered wheelchair. We also present the integration of modeled ultrasonic sensors in the simulation.

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Application of virtual reality technology to the assessment and training of powered wheelchair users

Andrew Harrison, Gary Derwent, Anne Enticknap, David Rose and Elizabeth Attree, Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability/University of East London, UK

The current study presents quantitative and qualitative data concerning the development and application of two non-immersive virtual environments (VEs) to the assessment and training of adult powered wheelchair users with complex neurological impairments. Aspects of manoeuvrability skills and route-finding were addressed. Results indicated that whilst the participants considered the VEs to be realistic and well represented, and the tasks reflected the skills needed to manoeuvre a powered wheelchair, completing the manoeuvrability tasks was more challenging in the VE than in real-life. Implications of these findings are discussed. Additional data are provided from two patients who commenced a series of training sessions using the manoeuvrability skills VE.

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Session II - Interfacing to Virtual Environments I

Session Chair: John Wann

Using haptic feedback to enhance computer interaction for motion-impaired users

Patrick Langdon, Simeon Keates, John Clarkson, and Peter Robinson, University of Cambridge, UK

For users with motion impairments, the standard keyboard and mouse arrangement for computer access often presents problems. Other approaches have to be adopted to overcome this. There is evidence to suggest that increasing the degrees-of-freedom, and hence bandwidth, of human-computer interaction (HCI), can improve interaction rates if implemented carefully. Haptic feedback is not really exploited in the existing HCI paradigm, so offers a potential method for broadening the interaction bandwidth by complementing the existing interaction structure. This paper describes a series of pilot studies to assess the effectiveness of two possible methods for incorporating haptic feedback into the interaction. The aim was firstly to ascertain whether the motion-impaired could detect the feedback successfully and then to assess whether the feedback may be of benefit. Two experiments were performed, one to test vibrotactile feedback and the other force feedback. The vibrotactile results were inconclusive, but the force feedback results were very positive.

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Basic issues concerning visually impaired people's use of haptic displays

Gunnar Jansson, Uppsala University, SWEDEN

Haptic displays present a potential solution to the old problem of rendering pictorial information about 3D aspects of an object or scene to people with vision problems. The aim of the paper is to discuss some basic issues of importance for the usefulness of these displays for visually impaired people: 1) the overview of a virtual object or scene available for exploration with only one point at a time; 2) the limited spatial resolution of haptics; 3) the potential effects of learning; 4) the necessity of simplifying pictorial information; and 5) the enhancement of tactile information with auditory and visual information.

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Haptic virtual environments for blind people: further explorations with the Phantom device

Helen Petrie, Paul Penn, Diana Kornbrot, Stephen Furner and Andrew Hardwick, University of Hertfordshire/British Telecommunications PLC, UK

The development of force feedback devices to add haptic information to virtual environments (VEs) has important implications for both able-bodied and disabled computer users. A study is presented in which blind and sighted participants used a PHANToM 1.0 force feedback device to feel a range of virtual grooved textures using both a thimble and stylus interaction device. Although there was no significant difference between blind and sighted participants, there were individual differences in the way the textures were perceived which have important implications for the use of haptic information in VEs. The stylus was found to produce more sensitive perception of the textures than the thimble, for both blind and participants.

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Internet based manipulator telepresence

Ton ten Kate, Paola Zizola, Bart Driessen and Koos van Woerden, TNO Institute of Applied Physics, The NETHERLANDS

A wheelchair based manipulator MANUS for severely handicapped people is in use with over one hundred people in their homes. Assessment, telepresence, training and communication among users and between users and professionals are helpful in many phases of acquisition and use of such a manipulator. Services and technologies are developed in the EU supported project Commanus (remote diagnosis, remote optimisation, and remote control). Internet communications with both real and virtual real functions are described in this paper.

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Session III - Acoustic Virtual Environments

Session Chair: Tomohiro Kuroda

Multi-sensory virtual environment for supporting blind persons' acquisition of spatial cognitive mapping

orientation, and mobility skills, Orly Lahav and David Mioduser, Tel Aviv University, ISRAEL

Mental mapping of spaces, and of the possible paths for navigating through these spaces, is essential for the development of efficient orientation and mobility skills. The work reported here is based on the assumption that the supply of appropriate spatial information through compensatory channels (conceptual and perceptual), may contribute to the blind people's spatial performance. We developed a multisensory virtual environment simulating real-life spaces. This virtual environment comprises developer / teacher mode and learning mode.

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Audio space invaders

Rachel McCrindle and David Symons, University of Reading, UK

Whilst advances are underway in various areas to ease and encourage disabled uptake of new technology, very little emphasis to date has been placed on making the games market accessible to all. The aims of the described work have been twofold. Firstly, to prove that the standard features of a traditional space invader game can be replicated using a 3-D audio (ambisonic) environment. Secondly, through combining audio and visual interfaces with force feedback joystick movement that it is possible to produce a multi-modal game that can be played by both sighted and non-sighted users, thereby enabling them to share the same gaming experience. This paper describes the development and features of the resultant Audio Space Invaders game.

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Usability and cognitive impact of the interaction with 3D virtual interactive acoustic environments by blind children

Jaime Sánchez and Mauricio Lumbreras, University of Chile, CHILE

It is known that blind children represent spatial environments with cognitive difficulty. This can be decreased if they are exposed to interactive experiences with acoustic stimuli delivered through spatialized sound software. A few studies have approached this issue by using interactive applications that integrate virtual reality and cognitive tasks to enhance spatial orientation skills. The aim of this research was to implement a field study to detect and analyze cognitive and usability issues involved in the use of an aural environment and the issues of representing navigable structures with only spatial sound. This experimental study has arisen from a challenging pilot research project to a full fledged field-testing research with eleven children during six months in a Chilean school for blind children. The research was implemented by using a kit of cognitive representation tasks, which includes exposure to the 3D acoustic environment, corporal exercises, and experiences with concrete representation materials such as sand, clay, storyfoam, and Lego bricks. The cognitive kit also included activities to represent the perceived environment, the organization of the space, and problem solving related to the interactions with the software. The usability testing of the environment was an explicit issue in the research by using both qualitative and quantitative methods including interviews, survey methods, logging actual use, still pictures, and video tape recording session analysis. The idea was to motivate and engage blind children to explore and interact with virtual entities in challenge-action software and to construct invisibly cognitive spatial mental representations.

The results of the study revealed that blind children can achieve the construction of mental structures rendered with only 3D sound and that spatial imagery is not purely visual by nature, but can be constructed and transferred through spatialized sound. Our hypothesis was fully confirmed revealing that each blind child passes fourth clear stages in their interaction with the sound environment and performing cognitive tasks: entry, exploration, adaptation, and appropriation. We also conclude that the child possesses both unique skills and pace referred to mental and spatial development, impacting directly on the quality of the topological features obtained in comparison to the ideal reference spatial structure embedded in the software.

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The quest for auditory direct manipulation: the sonified Towers of Hanoi

Fredrik Winberg and Sten Olof Hellström, City University, UK/Kungl Tekniska Hogskolan, SWEDEN

This paper presents a study of an auditory version of the game Towers of Hanoi. The goal of this study was to investigate the nature of continuos presentation and what this could mean when implementing auditory direct manipulation. We also wanted to find out if it was possible to make an auditory interface that met the requirements of a direct manipulation interface. The results showed that it was indeed possible to implement auditory direct manipulation, but using Towers of Hanoi as the underlying model restricted the possibilities of scaling the auditory space. The results also showed that having a limited set of objects, the nature of continuos presentation was not as important as how to interact with the auditory space.

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Session IV - Education & Community Access

Session Chair: Alfred Rosa

The many rooms of the virtual work-place

Magnus Magnusson, Karlstads Universitet, SWEDEN

Since the mid-90's the University of Karlstad has been involved in research work on the usage of so called videotelephony in therapeutical work as well as studies in common social distance interaction. Four main projects have been presented during a five-year period:

At the moment the projects have resulted concretely in some 20 videophones installed all over the country and some international tests as well.

A main ingredient in the projects has been to study the social importance of this technology as well as the educational possibilities in the technology, that is, how learning is amplified or not through the usage of videotelephony. The final aim of all the projects is five fold. First we want to establish a well founded description of the quality of the communication situation in relation to its physical counterpart. Secondly we want to study cost-effective alternatives in the professional care of people with speech and language problems. Thirdly we want to make this technology a commonly used tool among speech pathologists and therapists in the whole of Sweden since its multifunctionality seems to offer new professional possibilities. Fourthly, we want to evaluate the methodologies which might evolve. Finally, we want to see in what ways this technology can support and alleviate the social communication patterns of the specialists as well as the service users, in other words, the people with different sorts of communication disabilities. The equipment used are in almost all cases 2x64 kB/s ISDN-based and also desktop video conferencing, that is, systems integrated into personal computers.

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Research and education activities on disability and disabled people at the Virtual University in Nordic countries

Antti Teittinen and Markku Väätäinen, University of Jyväskylä, FINLAND

This paper describes the practical implementations and possibilities of virtual university for research and education on disability and disabled people. The development of internet technology supports the practise of this mission. In the late 1990s the Finnish Network for the Research on Disability (http://www.jyu.fi/~vamtutk/lomake.html) and the Nordic Network on the Disability Research (http://www.harec.lu.se/NNDR/index.html) were founded. The members of these networks are mostly non-medical disability researchers and authorities in Nordic countries. With the help of internet technology these networks together are building the virtual university, where it is possible to study disability issues. For example the internet based network makes possible to give a study counselling on-line easily between Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). In these countries several disability organisations and universities are the members of the virtual university project. The development of virtual university and study programmes are coordinated by the board of Nordic Network on the Disability Research (http://www.harec.lu.se/NNDR/members.html). So far practical examples are the annual Nordic conference on disability research since 1997, the first doctoral course in 1999 and the publication called "Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research" (http://www.harec.lu.se/NNDR/activities.html) since 1999. Besides these activities all the information and advisory services are available via internet and mailinglist. (http://www.jyu.fi/~vamtutk/tietopal.html and http://www.harec.lu.se/NNDR/mailinglist.html). A long term goal is to wide this project from Nordic countries to other European countries.

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Psychological and pedagogic testing of handicapped children with locomotion disorder using multimedia programs

Cecilia Sik-Lányi and Ágnes Molnár-Lányi, University Veszprém, HUNGARY

We have developed a multimedia-testing program, which helps the testing of cumulatively handicapped children and is specially designed for the testing of handicapped children with locomotive disorder. It has been prepared for the Commission of Investigation and Rehabilitation of Locomotion Disorders and the Centre of Teaching Handicapped Children. The psychological part of the program is the RAVEN test. The pedagogical part of the program contains several tasks the child will find as a playing possibility. Our program had to been developed in such a form that it could be used also by handicapped children with locomotive disorder.

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Community access through technology project: using virtual reality technologies for community integration

Jane Kaufman Broida, Clark Germann, Scott Houck and Jeffrey Broida, Metropolitan State College of Denver, USA

The Community Access Through Technology project uses virtual reality and other advanced technologies to produce simulations of community resources. The virtual environment is created using Quick Time Virtual Reality, and access annotations, interactive maps, and digital video are added to enhance the experience of the user. To determine the efficacy of the virtual reality in reducing anxiety, the present study was conducted. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups: control group, virtual reality treatment group, or leisure education-virtual reality treatment group. Results suggest that the virtual tour increased subjects recreation knowledge but had a negative effect on anxiety levels. However, subjects in the leisure education-virtual reality treatment group experienced significant recreation information gain and reduced anxiety. Further research examining more immersive virtual environments and use of additional physiological measures are recommended.

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Session V - Training Environments

Session Chair: Jaime Sánchez

VIRT - factory trainer project. A generic productive process to train persons with disabilities

Laura Mendozzi, Luigi Pugnetti, Elena Barbieri, Elizabeth Attree, David Rose, Walter Moro, Angelo Loconte, Begoña Corrales, Leocadie Maj, Anthony Elliot-Square, Franco Massara and Enzo Cutelli, Don Gnocchi Foundation, ITALY/University of East London, UK/Cooperativa "Il Melograno", ITALY/Cooperativa CSLS, ITALY/FEPROAMI, SPAIN/UNAPEI, FRANCE/Third Dimension Ltd, UK/CIRAH, ITALY

The production of a desktop VR package to be used by trainers and educators of mentally disabled subjects who seek employment in sheltered factories has been the goal of an EC funded project named VIRT. Three virtual training environments featuring a warehouse, a workshop and an office allow the trainees to practice with typical tasks such as the assembling and the handling of materials and goods. The virtual environments are flexible and can be easily changed to create variants of the basic tasks or to change their level of complexity. The warehouse and the workshop have been extensively tested by 20 disabled workers who had no previous exposure to VR and who worked under close supervision in two Italian sheltered factories during the late period of development. Every trainee spent 96 hours practising on the VIRT-Factory Trainer environments. This activity greatly contributed to the refinement of the product and to the collection of data concerning issues such as learning of procedures and tasks, adaptation to the interaction devices and system responses, and transfer of skills. Learning was apparent even in subjects with rather severe mental insufficiency. Initial difficulties with the interaction devices were greatly diminished after a few weeks of training in all subjects. There is also initial evidence from group analyses that transfer of skills to analogous real tasks may occur. Tutors reported an increase in motivation for work in all participants, which did not change with time. It is concluded that desktop VR training can be proposed to assist the training of mentally disabled workers and that it may produce both specific and unspecific favourable effects. The package is now being distributed to interested institutions and professionals for an additional extended assessment.

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Virtual environments as spatial training aids for children and adults with physical disabilities

DanaŽ Stanton, Paul Wilson, Nigel Foreman and Hester Duffy, University of Nottingham/University of Leicester/Middlesex University, UK

This paper outlines experimental work on the use of virtual environments in assessing and improving spatial skills in people with physical disabilities. New evidence is presented which suggests that the degree of spatial impairment experienced by physically disabled children varies dependent on early mobility, and that this impairment may persist into the teenage years. We also review an experiment demonstrating transfer of spatial knowledge from a virtual environment to the real world, and outline a proposed follow up study examining virtual experience versus physical model experience. Finally, other studies in progress are outlined that focus on vertical spatial encoding in virtual environments based on larger real world environments and include older users as the target group.

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Virtual reality in vocational training of people with learning disabilities

David Rose, Barbara Brooks and Elizabeth Attree, University of East London, UK

This paper reports a 3-stage investigation of virtual environments (VEs) in vocational training of people with learning disabilities. Stage 1 results showed that active interaction with a VE can give better learning than passive observation and that some of what is learned in a VE can transfer to the real world. Stage 2, a questionnaire survey, identified catering as the most popular choice for a virtual training package. Stage 3, a preliminary evaluation of that package, showed some positive transfer of training to a real kitchen test and provided clear justification for further development of this type of training.

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Effective strategies of tutors teaching adults with learning disabilities to use virtual environments

Penny Standen, David Brown, Roseanna Blake and Tracy Proctor, University of Nottingham/Nottingham Trent University, UK

Nine adults with learning disabilities spent up to twelve sessions with a non-disabled tutor learning to use desktop virtual environments designed to teach independent living skills. Sessions were recorded on videotape and analysed for frequency of tutor behaviours and goals achieved by learners. Before goals could be achieved, the learner had first to master the interaction devices and then learn to navigate around the environment. Preliminary analysis suggests that goal achievement maintains a constant level while instruction about the input devices and specific information about the environment decrease. Behaviours that maintain attention and motivation increase while positive feedback remains constantly high.

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Session VI - Virtual Environments & Autism

Session Chair: Elizabeth Attree

Employing virtual reality for aiding the organisation of autistic children behaviour in everyday tasks

Dimitrios Charitos, Georgios Karadanos, Ekaterini Sereti, Stathis Triantafillou, Sofia Koukouvinou and Drakoulis Martakos, University of Athens, GREECE

This paper documents part of a research project under the title: "Computer-Assisted Education and Communication of Individuals with Autistic Syndrome", which aims at designing and developing computer-based environments for aiding the education and assessment of autistic children. The theoretical basis of the project is explained. Finally, a scenario titled "Returning Home" for a virtual reality application, which would aid educators in organising the behaviour of autistic children in a series of everyday activities, is described.

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Design issues on interactive environments for children with autism

Kerstin Dautenhahn, University of Hertfordshire, UK

This article addresses design issues that are relevant in the AURORA project which aims at developing an autonomous, mobile robot as a therapeutic tool for children with autism. Cognitive theories of mind-reading are discussed and related to the AURORA project. This approach is put in the broader context of interactive environments, which autonomous mobile robots are a special case of. Implications of this research for interactive environments in general, and virtual environments in particular are discussed.

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Development of social skills amongst adults with Asperger's Syndrome using virtual environments: the 'AS Interactive' project

Sarah Parsons, Luke Beardon, Helen Neale, Gail Reynard, Richard Eastgate, John Wilson, Sue Cobb, Steve Benford, Peter Mitchell and Eileen Hopkins, University of Nottingham/National Autistic Society, UK

People with High-Functioning Autism, or Asperger's Syndrome (AS), are characterised by significantly impaired social understanding. Virtual environments may provide the ideal method for social skills training because many of the confusing inputs in 'real world' interactions can be removed. This paper outlines the rationale and methodology of the AS Interactive project. This multidisciplinary project incorporates a user-centred design and aims to develop and evaluate the use of virtual environments to support and enhance social skills amongst adults with AS. The potential for the use of Collaborative virtual environments for developing social awareness is also discussed.

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Session VII - Assessment & Rehabilitation

Session Chair: Luigi Pugnetti

Applications of virtual reality for the assessment and treatment of topographical disorientation: a project

Laura Bertella, Stefano Marchi and Giuseppe Riva, Istituto Auxologico Italiano/Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore - Milano, ITALY

The traditional tools afforded by neuropsychology have proved to be of considerable service not only for the description of the clinical course of illnesses, but also for their nosographic and diagnostic contextualization. Virtual reality technology appears to be able to take on a valued rôle within the variety of diagnostic tools that are necessary for an adequate assessment of impairments of executive function. Development of diagnostic tools based on virtual reality may be cost-effective, particularly with respect to old but still widely used paper-and-pencil tests. The aim of the project presented in this paper is the creation and validation of various VEs to improve the assessment and rehabilitation of topographical disorientation, a disease present in various cerebral pathologies.

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Virtual reality and stroke assessment: therapists perspectives

David Hilton, Sue Cobb and Tony Pridmore, University of Nottingham, UK

Involving users in the early stages of design has implications for the development, usability, acceptance and implementation of new computer systems. A project exploring the practical application of virtual reality to stroke assessment recently commenced at the University of Nottingham, with an emphasis on user centred design. A consortium of stroke therapists and researchers has guided the direction of the project through their involvement at the early planning stage. The consortium has provided broad guidelines for design, potential applications and identified barriers to this technology being routinely used in stroke assessment.

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Using immersive virtual reality to test allocentric spatial memory impairment following unilateral unilateral temporal lobectomy

Robin Morris, David Parslow and Michael Recce, Institute of Psychiatry, UK/New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA

Immersive virtual reality was used to investigate spatial memory in 17 right and 19 left unilateral temporal lobectomy patients and 18 control subjects. The subjects were administered a task consisting of a virtual room and table with radially arranged 'shells' on top. The subjects moved around the table and had to find a blue cube, which was under one of the shells. On subsequent searches, the cube moved to a new location and the subject had to find it whilst avoiding the previous location, and so on until all locations had been used. A selective deficit was observed in the right temporal lobectomy group only, linking allocentric memory to the function of the right hippocampal formation.

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Virtual environment applications for the assessment and rehabilitation of attention and visuospatial cognitive processes: an update

Albert Rizzo, Galen Buckwalter, Todd Bowerly, Andre van Rooyen, Jocelyn McGee, Cheryl van der Zaag, Ulrich Neuman, Marcus Thiebaux, Laehyun Kim and Clint Chua, University of Southern California/Fuller Graduate School of Psychology/UCLA, USA

Virtual Reality (VR) technology offers potential for sophisticated new tools that could be applied in the areas of neuropsychological assessment and cognitive rehabilitation. If empirical studies demonstrate effectiveness, virtual environments (VEs) could be of considerable benefit to persons with cognitive and functional impairments due to traumatic brain injury, neurological disorders, and learning disabilities. Testing and training scenarios that would be difficult, if not impossible, to deliver using conventional neuropsychological methods are now being developed to take advantage of the attributes of VEs. VR technology allows for the precise presentation and control of dynamic multi-sensory 3D stimulus environments, as well as the recording of all behavioral responses. This paper will focus on the progress of a VR research program at the University of Southern California that has developed and investigated the use of a series of VEs designed to target: 1) molecular visuospatial skills using a 3D projection-based ImmersaDesk system; and 2) attention (and soon memory and executive functioning) processes within ecologically valid functional scenarios using a Virtual Research V8 Head Mounted Display (HMD). Results from completed research, rationales and methodology of works in progress, and our plan for future work will be discussed. Our primary vision has been to develop VR systems that target cognitive processes and functional skills that are of relevance to a wide range of patient populations with CNS dysfunction. We have also sought to select cognitive/functional targets that intuitively appear well matched to the specific assets available with the VR equipment that is available for our use.

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Session VIII - Interfacing to Virtual Environments II

Session Chair: Patrick Langdon

Interactive interfaces for movement rehabilitation in virtual environments

Martin Smyth and John Wann, University of Reading, UK

This paper discusses a system for movement rehabilitation that uses low-cost widely available input devices supporting force-feedback, enabling the design of an individualised therapy curriculum. Interactive 3D environments present tasks that can be adapted in terms of complexity and ease of goal attainment. The system is focused upon promoting increase in the range of movement, control of tremor, control of limb velocity and control of smoothness of movement. Our system exploits the use of augmented feedback to enable the patient to identify the strategies and sensory cues that support re-organisation of the impaired motor response. Stress is laid on flexible mapping between the limb movement and the virtual environment action; this provides an extensible system to cope with diverse movement (dis-)abilities and also encompass advances in input device technology.

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Finger character learning system with visual feedback

Yoshito Tabata, Tomohiro Kuroda, Yoshitsugu Manabe and Kunihiro Chihara, Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), JAPAN

Many researches proposed many types of Computer Aided Education (CAE) systems for Japanese Sign Language (JSL). However, foregoing CAE systems for JSL have the problems that they cannot give the differences between targets and answers, and way to revise. The authors propose an innovative CAE system for JSL, which gives users visual information to revise their mistakes utilizing Computer Graphics (CG) animation. This paper presents finger character learning system with visual feedback as a prototype system of the proposed CAE system for JSL, a method to recognize finger characters and a way to give the visual information to revise.

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Inhabited interfaces: attentive conversational agents that help

Anton Nijholt, Dirk Heylen and Roel Vertegaal, University of Twente, The NETHERLANDS/Queen's University, Ontario, CANADA

We discuss the role of attentive agents in virtual reality interfaces. This discussion is guided by experiences and experiments with a virtual reality environment we designed and implemented. In this environment we have introduced agents, sometimes embodied, with which the users can communicate using different input modalities. These agents provide information or are able to perform certain transactions or they help the user in finding her way in the virtual environment, allowing a mix of user exploration and guidance. Among the input modalities that are considered are speech, natural language, mouse and keyboard and gaze. Output includes natural language, visual speech, changes in the virtual environment, animations and menus. Gradually this environment evolves to an environment where multiple users and agents live and communicate with each other. Apart from offering different input modalities and attentive agents, in the near future we also hope to be able, based on current experiments, to offer suggestions to the users based on preferences obtained from their user profile and their visit history.

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Session IX - Enhancing Mobility II

Session Chair: Andrew Harrison

Wearable computer for the blind aiming at a pedestrians' intelligent transport systems

Hiroshi Sasaki, Toshitaka Tateishi, Tomohiro Kuroda, Yoshitsugu Manabe and Kunihiro Chihara, Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), JAPAN/University of Oulu, FINLAND

As contemporary transport systems including the developing Intelligent Transport System (ITS) is vehicle centered, pedestrians - especially elders and persons with disabilities - are always threatened. This paper proposes a new pedestrian-centered traffic system concept named "Pedestrian's ITS" (P-ITS) based on ubiquitous and wearable computing techniques. This paper focuses on the wearable computer for the blind, one of the weakest areas in traffic systems. As knowledge of surroundings is most important for the blind to walk safely, the paper presents a method to support "surrounding presumption" on the wearable computer.

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The effect of interactive virtual environment training on independent safe street crossing of right CVA patients with unilateral spatial neglect

Yuval Naveh, Noomi Katz and Patrice (Tamar) Weiss, Hadassah-Hebrew University, Jerusalem, ISRAEL

Unilateral spatial neglect is defined as a disorder in which a patient fails to pay attention to stimuli presented to the contralateral side of the lesion; it is known to be associated with decreased functional independence. Our objective was to determine the suitability and feasibility of using a PC-based, non-immersive VR system for training individuals with unilateral spatial neglect to cross streets in a safe and vigilant manner. A virtual environment, consisting of a typical city street, was programmed via Superscape's™ 3D-Webmaster, a 3D web-authoring tool. Twelve subjects, aged 55 to 75 years, participated. Results demonstrated that this virtual environment was suitable in both its cognitive and motor demands for the targeted population. With very few exceptions, the control subjects were able to complete all levels of the program with success. The performance of the patient subjects was considerably more variable, and they were able to complete fewer levels, and usually took more time to do so. The results indicate that the virtual reality training is likely to prove beneficial to people who have difficulty with street crossing.

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Preventing mobility-related accidents in elderly and disabled

Dario Alpini, Antonio Cesarani, Luigi Pugnetti, Laura Mendozzi, Roldano Cardini, Reuven Kohen-Raz, Ales Hahan and Guiseppe Sambataro, Don Gnocchi Foundation/University of Sassari/University Of Milan San Paolo Hospital, ITALY/Hebrew University Of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ISRAEL/University of Prague, CZECH REPUBLIC

As the elderly and mobility-disabled populations in European countries continue to increase, it is imperative that mobility-related accidents and associated consequences be prevented whenever possible. This multi-modal project is aimed to provide educational, diagnostic and VR rehabilitative approach to prevention of falls in aging.

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Computerised system to improve voluntary control of balance in neurological patients

Davide Cattaneo and Roldano Cardini, Don Gnocchi Foundation, ITALY

The treatment of acquired impairments of balance is one of the most elusive problems rehabilitative medicine is facing. Computerized systems to measure how patients control their balance in static conditions have been introduced long ago into clinical practice and proved to be useful; we have designed and developed a computerized system called "BioGP" which combines features of a classic stabilometric platform with those of a retraining device based on visual feedback The aim of this study was to identify homogeneous groups of patients and to provide objective proof of effectiveness for the rehabilitation of patients with balance disorders. The findings confirm that the new equipment provides clinically valid and sensitive information concerning subjects' ability to control voluntary shifts of COP while standing. The information is relevant to VR applications using basically the same approach and are encouraging for possible use of the system as a rehabilitation instrument.

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Session X - Design of Virtual Environments

Session Chair: DanaŽ Stanton

Designing virtual learning environments for people with learning disabilities: usability issues

Helen Neale, Sue Cobb and John Wilson, University of Nottingham, UK

The Virtual Reality Applications Research Team (VIRART) has been developing communication and experiential Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) for people with learning disabilities since 1991. As a human-factors-based research group, we have always been aware of usability issues and the importance of consideration of user needs and abilities in any design development process. However, the infancy of VR for use by the general public and lack of VE applications, particularly for special needs users, has meant that there are few examples of usability studies and a general lack of design guidelines. This paper outlines design considerations in development of virtual learning environments and highlights usability issues identified via observation of users with learning disabilities. Specific usability problems were identified relating to communication, navigation and interaction. Examples are given and recommendations for VE design guidelines are suggested.

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Access to virtual learning environments for people with learning difficulties

Tanya Lannen, David Brown and Heather Powell, Nottingham Trent University, UK

An evaluation of virtual learning environments, developed to teach independent living skills to people with learning difficulties, found that individuals differed in the amount of support required to use the input devices. This paper describes the employment of a user-centred design methodology to design, develop and evaluate a virtual environment hardware interface for people with learning difficulties. Central to this methodology is 'usability', a crucial factor in the production of a successful human-computer interface. The completion of this study should result in the production of a virtual environment interface for people with learning difficulties, which satisfies ISO 9241 (the British Standard giving guidance on usability).

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Collaborative networked framework for the rehabilitation of children with Down's Syndrome

Ana Margarida Almeida and Fernando Ramos, University of Aveiro, PORTUGAL

This paper describes a reference architecture to support a multi-user virtual communication platform that enables rehabilitation and social integration of Down's Syndrome children. The platform, based on an on-line virtual collaborative environment supported by the World Wide Web, includes collaboration and interpersonal communication devices and data collection mechanisms to provide management information for system and effectiveness evaluation. It allows children with Down's Syndrome, geographically spread in schools and homes, to access a distributed virtual platform able to offer communication and shared construction processes. This will leverage the exploitation and development of communication and socialisation abilities, creating conditions to the exploitation of new rehabilitation patterns.

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Special considerations for navigation and interaction in virtual environments for people with brain injury

Anita Lindén, Roy Davies, Kerstin Boschian, Ulf Minör, Robert Olsson, Bengt Sonesson, Mattias WallergŚrd and Gerd Johansson, Lund University Hospital/University of Lund, SWEDEN

When a Virtual Environment (VE) is designed, decisions regarding the navigation of the viewpoint, interaction with objects, and the behaviour of the VE itself are made. Each of these can affect the usability and the cognitive load on the user. A VE that had previously been constructed as a prototype tool for the assessment of brain injury has been studied to establish the consequences of such design decisions. Six people, two with brain injury, have used the VE to perform a specific task (brewing coffee) a total of ten times over two sessions separated by a week. These trials were video recorded and analysed. Results and implications are presented and discussed.

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Session XI - Cognition

Session Chair: Paul Sharkey

Virtual city for cognitive rehabilitation

Rosa Maria Moreira da Costa, Luís Alfredo Vidal de Carvalho and Doris Ferraz de Aragon, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro/Instituto de Lógica, Filosofia e Teoria da CiÍncia, BRASIL

Virtual Reality technology offers opportunities to create new products, which could be applied to the cognitive rehabilitation of people with acquired brain injury or neurological/psychiatric disorders. The effects provided by Virtual Environments (VE) stimulate cerebral neuroplastic changes, enhancing the rehabilitation process. This article discusses issues related to this field and presents the main features of an Integrated Virtual Environment for Cognitive Rehabilitation development process. Finally, initial results of an experiment with a group of schizophrenic patients are presented.

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Peripheral responses to a mental-stress inducing virtual environment experience

Michael Meehan, Luigi Pugnetti, Fabio Riva, Elena Barbieri, Laura Mendozzi and Eugenia Carmagnani, University of North Carolina, USA/Don Gnocchi Foundation, European Biofeedback Association and Istituto Clinico S. Ambrogio, ITALY

Virtual environments (VEs) are used increasingly in the education and training of people with disabilities. When utilizing these VEs, it is important to know 1) whether they are effective in the manner desired and 2) whether there are side effects from them. This exploratory study looks at both issues. This paper describes a study in which we observe a predictable pattern of both stress related to the content of the VE and a pattern of relaxation over time (30 minutes - 1 hour) in the VE.

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More on central nervous system correlates of virtual reality testing

Luigi Pugnetti, Michael Meehan, Laura Mendozzi, Fabio Riva, Elena Barbieri, and Eugenia Carmagnani, Don Gnocchi Foundation, Italy/University of North Carolina, USA/European Biofeedback Association and Istituto Clinico S. Ambrogio, ITALY

Polygraphic recordings of EEG and peripheral variables of 10 healthy volunteers taking a VR-based cognitive testing were analysed to describe the phenomenology of short-term and long-term EEG and EP changes and to extract psycophysiological indicators of information processing and adaptation. A non-immersive VR setup was used to allow exposures to VR of up to 60 min. Auditory-task irrelevant probes proved effective in tracking participants' mental fatigue. Strong negative feedback and motor reactions to them produced well formed event-related potentials including anticipatory components, while other ERPs and alpha EEG changes were noticed to be associated with specific VR events. Finally, sustained EEG changes took place which were correlated with successful or failing cognitive strategies. The neurological equipment produced only negligible additional discomfort to the participants. Psychophysiological investigations should be carried out more intensively by those developing applications for the disables because are potentially very informative and suitable to tune and optimise important aspects of VR-based paradigms.

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Embodying cognition: a proposal for visualizing mental representations in virtual environments

Álvaro Sánchez, José María Barreiro and Víctor Maojo, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, SPAIN

This paper examines the possibility of visualising the most abstract knowledge in virtual environments: mental representations that are involved in the basic cognitive processes. Metaphorisation is a key tool for creating virtual environments capable of embodying what is in the mind. The aim of these environments is to improve the learning and rehabilitation of users with cognitive disabilities. We propose to design symbolic environments in which concepts are converted into a bodily experience by means of the metaphorical projection from the abstract to the physical domain. Our proposal is illustrated by the description of a case study: the representation of categories in a virtual environment for blind children.

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Cognitive intervention through virtual environments among deaf and hard-of-hearing children

David Passig and Sigal Eden, Bar-Ilan University, ISRAEL

The deficiencies of the auditory sense in the hearing-impaired raises the question as to the extent to which this deficiency affects their cognitive and intellectual skills. Researchers have found, that in regard with reasoning, particularly when the process of induction is required, hearing-impaired children usually have difficulties. Another cognitive process, which hearing-impaired children have difficulties in, is the ability to think in a flexible way. Studies have proven that hearing-impaired children tend to be more concrete and rigid in their thought processes. They usually choose one familiar means of solving problems and use it to deal with most of the problems that they encounter.

In recent years, one can identify a trend for active intervention in the cognitive capabilities of deaf children in a growing effort to improve their intellectual functioning. The uniqueness of this study is the use it makes of Virtual Reality, as a tool for improving structural inductive processes and the flexible thinking with hearing-impaired children. The results clearly indicate that practicing with VR 3D spatial rotations significantly improved inductive thinking and flexible thinking.

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