What’s happening in VR right now: From psychedelic art to combat therapy


Digital Arts | 21 April 17

Image: iStock

The Virtual Reality Show launched in London yesterday, showcasing exciting all-new projects. We went down to check out what current innovations are happening in the world of VR.

VR is continuing to be used for extremely varying purposes, such as medical surgery research, dance choreography and nature conservation awareness to name a few.

From post-military therapy simulations to a psychedelic sculpture park, it's pretty impressive to see how brands and companies are using VR to improve research, reach out to wider audiences (whether commercially or as a charity) and gain knowledge.

Here at Digital Arts we’re interested in all forms of virtual reality (not just limited to art) - from the latest motion-capture gloves, how VR is being used to simulate space, to what the best painting tools are (we even got illustrator Alex Moore to try out Google’s Tilt Brush).

Below I round up the most interesting and diverse experiences on offer in VR right now, of which I tried out at the Virtual Reality Show.

Blortasia

Let's begin with my absolute personal favourite - Blortasia. VFX artist Kevin Mack created this incredible psychedelic sculpture park in which you can fly around and admire his work (which took months to create) in all its multi-coloured glory. The 360-degree animated park floats and blobs around you as you explore avenues and corners that lead to all new labyrinths. Use the HTC Vive controllers to determine how fast or slow you float around, and which direction you want to go in the weird and wonderful land. Take a look at the video below.

Peaceful, abstract music plays in the background of the stimulating, yet amazingly meditative experience. In Kevin’s art world in the sky you feel invincible and light as a feather.

Also on exhibit will be his Zen Parade, a five-minute journey through a 360-degree 3D animated world of living sculptures.

Kevin is a VFX pioneer whose work for What Dreams May Come won him a Best Visual Effects Oscar. His human brain VFX in Fight Club inspired the development of tissue simulation software used for virtual cell research. He has a background in neuroscience and is the son of Disney artists.

A Walk Through Dementia

On a more serious note, the title explains exactly what this VR app is. A Walk Through Dementia was created by Visyon for Alzheimer’s Research UK. The charity says VR is a way to pull in a wider audience, including children, who might otherwise disregard the importance of Dementia at first thought.

The scenario on the app that I experienced (there are three) puts you in the shoes of an elderly lady with dementia walking home with her son, and the worries and concerns that pop up along the way. For example, she forgets which shortcut to take and believes a puddle is a dark, scary hole. Check it out in the video below.

The experience was very moving. I felt just as distressed as the elderly lady, but at the same time I was beginning to understood the effects of Dementia a whole lot more than before.

A Walk Through Dementia works only with Android-exclusive Google Cardboard. You can download the app free from the Google Play Store.

Medical Realities

Continuing on with the medical theme, Medical Realities is an education platform for the Oculus Rift designed for surgical trainees. It's expected to officially launch next week.

The 360-degree videos of real-life surgical operations let the viewer watch and learn from what’s happening around them. Boxes of information about the roles of medical staff and the operation pop up around you. The platform offers a collection of modules covering key syllabus material. But be warned, this experience is not for the faint hearted. Everything is on show for you to see - blood, stitches, the works. So best to avoid this if you’re squeamish like me.

Medical Realities is specifically targeted at medical students, institutions and academics but is open for anyone with a thirst for surgical knowledge. By using consumer-level VR devices, the team at Medical Realities hope to reduce the cost of training, and to reach a wider audience.

To get a hold of Medical Realities register here. Prices for Medical Realities are not yet finalised, but if you’re interested sign-up to the newsletter for future updates. Form more information, check out their FAQ section.

Bravemind

Bravemind is a VR Exposure Therapy experience for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The VR experience I had at the show was designed to be included in therapy for combat-related PTSD - for service members and veterans suffering the “wounds of war”. The VR environment stimulated a war zone, but a peaceful one at first. You’re there on your own, and it’s up to the therapist to add in stimuli such as extra people, explosions or even floating bodies according to how prepared they think the patient is to experience this.

Find out a little more about it in the video below.

At first I thought reliving this experience may be traumatising for the patient, but in fact, Exposure Therapy encourages a patient to confront those traumatic memories through retelling of the experiences.

The Bravemind VR Exposure Therapy software was created at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies. It's provided free of charge for its clinical use and research upon documentation clinician expertise.

Protect a Penguin

Visualise is a London-based VR production studio specialising in 360-degree films and documentaries. Although Visualise creates VR experiences for commercial companies and editorials - such as The Economist and BBC -the idea is that the money from this helps to fund the creation of their very own stories - such as The Final Bell - released in time to launch at the Virtual Reality Show. The documentary explores the making of the last bell by The Whitechapel Bell Foundry (first opened 1570) - one of the oldest manufacturing firms in Britain - just before its closure next month.

The Visualise stand also showcases its other documentaries, so I watched Walk with Penguins - a VR video shot in 3D for BirdLife International’s global campaign, Protect a PenguinCheck it out in the video below. Remember to move your mouse around the video to get the full perspective.

In the experience, you are brought down to the level of the penguins - some of them even come right up to you. This engagement and visual understanding of the penguin world is meant to lead to a greater support for their conservation. 

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