Gaming enthusiasts are in large early adopters of technology and usually eager to get hold of the latest title releases as well as new game products. The gaming industry is vast and it grows year by year, predicted to be worth $99.6 billion in 2016. For the first time, the mobile gaming will represent a larger share – $36.9 billion.
The popularity is encouraging enough for companies to invest large sums of money in Research and Development (R&D) and developing devices that create new playing experiences, opening a whole new market. For example, Nintendo introduced a whole range of control interfaces with its Wii game, and Niantic developed the augmented reality Pokémon Go game. Now the industry seems to be focusing on the lastest trend – Virtual Reality (VR) to enhance the game experience. This is quite evident as most tech retailers, such as mobile phone stores in the UK are now selling VR sets.
The technology is not new and the first commercially available VR devices were developed back in the 80’s. A pioneering company called VPL Research (formed by ex-Atari employees) launched glasses for full immersion and allowed players to use special gloves to control the game with gestures. However, these devices never became popular as they were hard to use and limited to the computing technology of the time.
Virtual Reality has made a come-back. Thanks to the miniaturisation of powerful computing technology, headsets are now being developed to take advantage of this evolvement, with vast improvements in realistic computer graphics, sensors and wearing comfort. Currently, the most talked about headset is the Oculus Rift. The first version was built in 2010 with a range of features – it displayed stereoscopic 2D images, offered a 90-degree field of vision (unseen in previous VR sets) and it was the first to connect wirelessly to the internet. The device was rather cumbersome to wear, but later versions were ergonomically improved for balance and stability. The current version displays 3D images and has a tracking system which tells the system what the player’s exact location is. Several other companies now are competing in the same market, such as Sony with its PlayStation VR. Google has created a do-it-yourself cardboard model, which works with an attached Android smartphone and a stereoscopic viewer that captures immersive images from an Android app.
What started as a tool for enhancing gaming experiences, is now finding its way into other areas. Virtual Reality is now being introduced in education, training, design, sales, architecture and healthcare, to name a few.
Healthcare has become one of its big adopters. It is being used as a tool for teaching and to treat phobias, especially those experienced by autism patients. Most recently a surgeon from the Royal London Hospital has performed a “virtual” surgery that was transmitted to 5,000 people in 14 countries, wearing a headset from a company called VR One.
Could Virtual Reality be used as a Human Factors tool?
Simulators are regularly used in Human Factors for a number of purposes, most commonly to simulate transportation such as flying, driving and sailing. Simulators are essentially games running on desktop computers but with specific purposes and controls, (E.g.: a helicopter simulator with a cyclic, a collective, a throttle and anti-torque pedals). These types of simulators either use projected or monitor-displayed computer graphics imagery.
Often, simulation in Human Factors is criticised for the lack of fidelity and realism. VR so far hasn’t been extensively used in Human Factors, but it could potentially add another dimension to the experience by creating viewing experiences designed to “trick” the human brain and add realistic feeling.
When it comes to conduct human factors and usability testing of medical devices, the focus is not entirely on the device user-interface interaction, but it can be about its effects in the use environment. For example, an injection that is self-administered in a public place such as a train station (with crowds, noise and other distractions) can have a negative effect and impact the use safety. If VR could be used to “wrap” the environment around the user with different environments, the test could potentially produce different results and predict future usability problems. Virtual Reality could also be used as an augmented reality tool, helping in product developing research phase, by creating user-interfaces that do not exist but can be digitally made. For example, images projected on a block of foam. The block can give the user the tactile feeling and the projected images could simulate the digital display. This images could then be interacted with and responded via touch or audible commands. The digital user interface could also be customised in several ways, so users can experiment with different designs.
Another aspect of Virtual Reality is scalability as it is not limited to one player, but groups can use the device network capabilities and be connected in the same simulation. This is particularly important when a usability test moderator needs to see exactly what the participant is looking at whilst interacting with a medical device in a Virtual reality simulation.
The potential is only limited by what the technology can offer and the use of VR in human factors is certainly a very exciting area to be explored.
THAY Medical is currently investigating how VR could be used in experimental usability studies and we will endeavour to publicise our developments. For more information please contact THAY Medical at firstname.lastname@example.org we would love to hear from you.
The staff at THAY Medical.