• Thu. Sep 29th, 2022

Virtual reality ‘archery’ could help blind people improve their orientation

ByMary M. Ward

Jan 6, 2022

Researchers from the IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) have developed an archery game based on acoustic virtual reality, allowing blind people to experience this type of archery for the first time. technology, which is generally focused on vision. The researchers’ goal was to understand how blind people move and orient themselves in space, and they did so in an engaging way. The platform can be used in the future to rehabilitate the orientation skills of blind people and make them more independent, like braille does for reading and writing.

The platform was presented at the 43rd annual international conference of the IEEE Engineering and Biological Society (EMBC)and the research results have been published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience in November last year.

“The ability to orient oneself in space is obviously linked to vision, but the mechanisms by which this occurs and the strategies used by the human brain to cope with vision loss are still unclear,” explains Dr. Monica Gori, who coordinates the Unit for the visually impaired. People (UVIP) at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Genoa (Italy). “Our latest research result is a new step in understanding how space and the body combine to create the sense of space.”

Contrary to popular belief, blind people do not have superhearing. A few years ago, Monica Gori and her group demonstrated that their hearing abilities are very context dependent. For example, they struggle to orient themselves in relation to the landmarks available around them. Using the new platform, researchers have demonstrated that people who are congenitally blind have difficulty coordinating head and trunk to reorient themselves to new targets, but the main source of information they rely on is the body – via vestibular, proprioceptive and motor cues – rather than environmental sounds, which are more preferred by blindfolded sighted people.

Davide Esposito, developer of the archery game and member of the UVIP Lab, says: “Apart from the scientific objective of the game, giving blind people the opportunity to try virtual reality was rewarding. Many of our participants had a lot of fun doing the experiment and wanted to continue playing even after the experiment was over.”

The researchers hope that the platform, which so far has only been used for evaluation, could be transformed into a serious game to rehabilitate the orientation skills of blind people and make them more independent, as Braille does for reading and writing.

Reference:

Esposito D, Bollini A, Gori M. Early blindness limits the development of head-trunk coordination for horizontal reorientation. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. 2021;15:400. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2021.699312

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