Drax Files 22: adventures in virtual health

Sandy Winkler is  an assistant professor at NOVA Southeastern University College of Healthcare Sciences in Florida, teaching occupational therapy, and she has brought a unique 3-year study to Second Life: how a virtual world might better serve as a learning environment for amputees when compared to a traditional website.

Dr. Sandra Winkler (via Nova Southeastern University)

The study, entitled Dissemination of Amputation and Prosthetic Evidenced-based Medicine, is funded by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Sandy is half-way through the allotted 3-year study period. Enough time to have started gathering and assessing data based on patient studies, and to provide general feedback – although as Sandy herself states towards the end of the piece, it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions.

A core focus of the study is to increase the acceptance of living with an amputation and the use of prosthetics. Both aspects of this work involve overcoming psychological and physiological issues an amputee faces. Physiological in terms of adjusting to life without a limb or limbs, and also in physically learning to use a prosthetic; psychological in terms of mentally adjusting to the loss of a limb pr limbs, dealing with a range of potential emotional issues which inevitably arise from the loss of a limb or limbs, together with the joint psychological / physiological aspect of learning to adopt their lifestyle, activities and mobility to suit the use of a prosthetic or wheelchair.

The work has involved the use of both traditional 2D-based websites and Second Life to assess how amputees respond to information relating to loss of limbs and the use of prosthetics.

The main building at Virtual Health Adventures
The main building at Virtual Health Adventures

The in-world side of the study offers the same information, history and so on, to patients via the Virtual Health Adventures island (VHA), which is supported both by a website of the same name and developmentally by Virtual Ability Inc.

Here amputees can not only read about exercises, learn about mobility using a prosthetic or wheelchair (such as getting the latter in and out of their car), they can experience them via their avatar, the actions and movements of the latter being sufficiently life-like that they can be replicated in the physical world, encouraging patients to repeat the exercises, etc. Such is the sense of identification subjects feel with their avatar, that Sandy notes those who have balance problems with a prosthetic leg in the physical world make a marked improvement in their sense of balance as a result of seeing their avatar get around within Second Life.

Alongside this, VHA offer a range of in-world activities and opportunities for social engagement, with windsurfing, jet skiing, and more on offer by way of activities, together with opportunities to sit and chat with others and / or participate in the aforementioned exercises. These have been shown to offer what might be called a two-step benefit. On the first, there is the obvious social interactive element and the benefits arising therefrom, together with the sheer enjoyment of kicking back and doing things which are fun. In addition, the activities have been shown to assist in dealing with phantom limb syndrome.

The museum in the upper floor of the VHA building
The museum in the upper floor of the VHA building

Occupational therapy obviously plays a huge role in adjusting to living with an amputation and learning to operate with a prosthetic limb. The VHA has a special role to play here as well, which is directly focused on therapists and students, allowing them to spend time in-world as an amputee, experiencing first-hand what it is like to have more limited mobility or limited vision, allowing them to better understand situations and circumstances face by amputees and to  directly integrate the prosthetic into their own body image, helping them to develop a more empathic bonding with those whom they treat.

While, as noted above, it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions and the VHA’s work, Sandy has a positive view of the potential of virtual worlds. “It’s pretty clear that the virtual world environment is a significant next step in tele-healthcare,” she says. “We live in such exciting times, technology is making huge leaps, and interactions and digital worlds are becoming more and more immersive. If we let our imagination fly, there’s no limit to what can happen.”

So very true.

Continue reading “Drax Files 22: adventures in virtual health”

Of windmills, men of the imagination and questing through SL

Dox Quixote
Don Quixote

I recently wrote about Gem Preiz’s new exhibition Geometry and Genesis , which forms one of the exhibits in this year’s Fine Arts Tour (FIAT) on display at the Galeria Mexico during the month of September.

Also participating in this year’s Tour is another artist friend of mine, Derry McMahon. As the founder (now retired) of the Seanchai Library in SL, Derry has taken as the theme for her exhibit none other than Miguel de Cervantes’ much-loved literary hero, the Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha himself, Don Quixote.

We’re all familiar with the tale of this stranger in a strange land, on his quest to make the world a better place, and who sees the world not as it is, but as it should be. A tale which, as Derry noted to me in discussing her exhibit, a perfect foil to explore Second Life from the perspective of both imagination and the many ways in which we create and show our own visions of this strange and beautiful digital land.

Dox Quixote
Don Quixote

In presenting Don Quixote, Derry effectively takes on the role of  visual chronicler to Alonso Quijano’s explorations through Second Life. She presents this idea very cleverly through one of the images in the exhibition, where she can be seen kneeling to photograph the Don, who appears none too certain about having his image captured.

This is a charming and whimsical display of some 28 images captured from around SL and spread over two floors of exhibition space. Some of them feature motifs drawn from Don Quixote’s adventures – there are a few windmills to be found, together with a tavern scene, horses and jousting lances. Others are far more reflective of the stranger in a strange land element, and will likely raise a bemused eyebrow – as they probably did for the Don himself!

Dox Quixote
Don Quixote

The whimsy is evident in images of the Don sitting outside on a caravan, guitar by his side as if awaiting to be called up to a stage and perform – itself perhaps a subtle reference to The Man of LaMancha musical. Then there is the wonderful image of the Don astride a mechanical rodeo horse – a tilting of an entirely different kind!

Derry mixes her art with images of posters from the Wasserman / Darion musical The Man of La Mancha (itself an adaptation of a teleplay by Wasserman) and which was in turn adapted into the 1972 Arthur Miller film starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren, which also appears in poster form.  Excerpts from the sheet music give further ambience to the exhibit.

Don Quixote
Dox Quixote

All told, Don Quixote is a delightful display, the images fresh and imaginative and which easily put one in mind of some of the memorable songs from the musical. When touring FIAT, be sure not to miss it.

And on the subject of songs from the musical, there really is only one way to close this piece – and that’s with the marvellous Scott Bakula performing a medley from the musical.

Related links


Firestorm turns four on the third

firestorm-logoOn Wednesday September 3rd, the Firestorm viewer turns four, and the team are inviting all who can to join them in a 4th anniversary party.

The blog post announcing the event reads in part:

September 3rd we turn four! Hard to believe but it has already been 4 years since we started developing viewers! First the popular Phoenix viewer and now of course the crazy popular Firestorm Viewer. Firestorm is by far  the most popular viewer used in Second Life and we have you to thank for that! After all… we couldn’t have done it without your support and encouragement! So as a show of our appreciation and with what is becoming a bit of a tradition for us… we have partnered with a couple of content creators to bring you some really cool free gifts AND organized a Rockin anniversary party with Rockin entertainment!

Things will kick-off at 13:00 SLT on Wednesday September 3rd, at the Phoenix-Firestorm support Island, where Mankind Trace (aka Seth Regan in the physical world) will be starting things with a live performance, and he’ll be followed by Firestorm’s Ed Merryman, who will be spinning the discs until the last avatar drops (which in 2013 added up to a 18+ hour party!).

Do keep in mind that the region’s capacity is liable to be limited, but people will be coming and going – so if you don’t get in the first time – try later!

To further mark the event, two special gifts will be on offer. The first of this is another Firestorm cat from KittyKats. This one is called FireBall, and like the 2013 kitty, is fully interactive – it can wander, follow and even be held –  and comes complete with a party hat, engraved collar and a cute matching bed!

The Firestorm 4th anniversary KittyKat and custom bike from
The Firestorm 4th anniversary KittyKat and custom bike from Desert Morning Motors

Also on offer for a limited time is a Firestorm themed Cafe style easy rider bike, donated by Desert Morning Motors. Inspired by the Classic American Motorcycles of the late 1930′s to the late 1960′s, and capture the spirit of the American chopper bikes. So get ready to be a Firestorm Easy Rider!

Locations for obtaining both of these limited-time gifts will be announced through the Firestorm blog on Wednesday September 3rd, and will doubtless be available at the party!

Which just leaves me to pass on congratulations and best wishes to Jessica, Ed, and the team on reaching their 4th anniversary!

Stand Up 2 Cancer 2014: SL music races for a cure

SL Music-logoFriday September 5th will see a special evening hosted on US prime time television in support of Stand Up 2 Cancer, a US-centric organisation (also supported in Canada), established within the entertainment industry specifically to raise funds to accelerate the pace of groundbreaking translational cancer research.

The event will feature performances from top recording artists and celebrities from film and television, and feature patient stories that illustrate the remarkable progress that SU2C has made in cancer research since its inception in May 2008. During the show, those watching will be invited to offer donations to SU2C, with the guarantee that 100% of public donations received by the organisation will go directly into supporting SU2C’s collaborative research programmes.

To mark the event, music venues across Second Life, together with SL artists and musicians from around the world are coming together in  4-day festival of music and fund-raising also in support of SU2C.

StillSL Music Races for a Cure has being organised by Still Braveheart, has the full approval of SU2C, and is also listed as an official SU2C fundraising team.

In all some 23 live music venues and over 150 performers will be taking place across the weekend.Those attending any of the events can make donations to SU2C at the venues themselves via the SU2C donation boards, or they can visit the team webpage and made donations there.

Full details of venues and performances can be found at The Shore – simply click on the Stand Up 2 Cancer logo to receive a note card set for venues and performers across the 4 days. However, to give you a flavour of things, you can see the line-up as it stood at the time of writing this piece. There were still some slots open across a number of venues through the four days of the event, so if you are a performer and would like to participate, please contact Still directly.

Commenting on the weekend, Still Braveheart said, “we are just about ready to kick off the most awesome fund-raiser on the grid next week.  23 live music venues, over 150 different performers. all with in 3-4 days.  We are truly going to rock the grid, have fun and most importantly, MAKE A DIFFERENCE in this battle against a horrible disease!”

About Stand Up 2 Cancer

SU2C-logoStand Up 2 Cancer SU2C, is a US-centric, non-profit organisation run under the auspices of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, specifically established to raise funds to accelerate the pace of groundbreaking translational cancer research that can get new cancer therapies to patients quickly.

Since its inception in May 2008, SU2C has seen over $261 million pledged in funds, which has contributed to some 141 clinical trials involving 750 scientists and 5,000 cancer patients, and which have spanned 112 US institutions.

SU2C’s approach is to break down the barriers faced by cancer researchers in having to compete for funding for their projects, by fostering and financing interdisciplinary and cross-organisational collaborative research programmes using what they refer to as Dream Teams.  100% of all public donations goes directly into supporting these collaborative research activities.

Find out more through the following links:

CtrlAltStudio now with DK2 positional head-tracking

CAS-logoOn August 25th, and continuing his work in providing preliminary support for the Oculus DK2 in his CrtlAltStudio viewer, Dave Rowe announced the release of version Alpha 2 for Windows.

This is essentially the same release as the release for the DK2 made on August 19th, but sees positional head tracking support added to the viewer.

Commenting on the release, Dave stated:

This alpha release of the CtrlAltStudio Viewer adds positional head tracking support to take advantage of the DK2’s camera. You can look around, over, and under objects by moving your head. This adds significantly to the sense of immersion.

Usage is the same as the previous alpha. With the DK2 configured in extended mode: use the Windows key + RIGHT CURSOR to move your viewer window onto the Rift’s display, then CTRL+ALT+3 makes the window full screen and switches into Rift view.

CtrlAltStudio supports Rift DK2 positional head tracking (image: Le Journal du Gamer, July 5th, 2014)

The release also sees two other additions to the viewer:

  • A CTRL+Spacebar command that zeroes Rift sensor orientation and tracking position.
  • A user warnings if Rift HMD or camera not found at start-up.

There is still no support for basic shaders or the UI in Riftlook in the viewer, nor is there any Rift direct mode support. However, these are on Dave’s “to do” list for the future.

As with the previously alpha release with DK2 support, this version will install into its own directory, allowing it to be used alongside the release version.

 Related Links