In addition to our core areas of specialization, VRMC conducts research in a variety of areas related to using advanced technologies for training, therapy, and emerging applications. The virtual environments that we construct for our clinical and training programs uniformly elicit significant physiological arousal to replicate real-world experiences. We have a strong development team at VRMC, utilizing a three-pronged approach to product and protocol development. New concepts for products are initially discussed with clinicians and technical members of the team, which include software developers, programmers, hardware integrators, and computer graphic artists. And since our team includes international collaborators, we are able to create culturally-sensitive VR systems designed for use with a more diverse group of users.
CDC VR Driving Simulator
CDC VR Driving Simulator for Training and Evaluating Driver Behavior
The CDC funded this study to determine whether training young drivers with a driving simulator would reduce the number of traffic violations and accidents experienced by novice licensed drivers. The participants of the study included 2 groups. The control group attended standard drivers’ education and training classes. The experimental group attended standard drivers’ education and training classes and participated in training utilizing a virtual reality driving simulator. Driving records for both groups are being monitored for 2 years after participants receive their driving licenses.
In particular, one aspect of the cognitive screening protocol evaluated impulsivity, which will be correlated over the 2-year follow-up and related to numbers of fatalities, MVAs, DUIs, moving violations, and any other infractions. The study protocol included 2 phases. Phase I included an introduction to the simulator and minimum performance on a computerized training test that tracks errors such as inappropriate lane changes (going over the white line) and “rolling stops” at stop signs. In Phase II, driving skill development was learned. Teenage participants drove in simulated situations that are often difficult and at times dangerous – e.g., a child running in front of their car – and the computer tracked the errors.
As part of the screening process to enter the study, participants were administered standard personality inventories, a computerized cognitive screening task, and self-report questionnaires concerning perceived self-efficacy. After completion of the study, participants were administered questionnaires to determine level of presence (or immersion) in the virtual reality training simulators and level of simulator sickness, which might have occurred during training. VRMC is in discussions with several physician groups in San Diego to develop a driving simulator that can be used to assess the status of elderly drivers and to test for early deficits in cognitive function.
DOE Hyperspectral Imaging for Cancer Detection
This technology using noninvasive hyperspectral imaging may detect cancerous and precancerous abnormalities in human tissue. The 3-dimensional optical imaging system employs high spectral resolution and narrow bandwidths to create highly detailed images that distinguish cancerous tissue from healthy tissues. A comparison of these tissue segments and cells permits diagnosis and delineation of suspect tissue.
Hyperspectral imaging can be used to detect cancerous tissues in all areas of the human body accessible through endoscopy:
- Oral cavity cancers – tongue, gum, mouth, tonsil, salivary gland
- Digestive system cancers – colorectal, stomach, esophagus, small intestine
- Respiratory system cancers – lung, bronchus, pleura, larynx
- Female genital cancers – corpus, ovary, vulva, uterus
This highly detailed 3-D imaging measures colors simultaneously in hundreds of spectral bands, instead of just a handful of spectral bands as with current technology. It provides objective, quantifiable data about the spectral signatures of suspect tissue to reduce reliance on subjective judgments. Other benefits of this technology include:
- Precise imaging reveals details not visible to the human eye or to other imaging techniques
- Image may accurately detect cancerous and precancerous tissue, and further discriminates tissue into multiple tissue types of categories
- Image covers large areas, minimizing risk of overlooking suspect tissue and precisely delineating tumor margins
- Miniature probe size permits noninvasive diagnosis wherever endoscope can be used
“Hyperspectral imaging methods and apparatus for non-invasive diagnosis of tissue for cancer” is covered by U.S. Patent No. 5,782,770 (Dr. Mark Wiederhold, co-inventor), issued July 21, 1998; the automated hyperspectral imaging software is U.S. Patent Pending.
NIDA fMRI Glasses
NIDA Low-cost fMRI-safe Virtual Reality Glasses
Neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which are being used to understand how drugs of abuse alter brain functioning, are being combined with stimulus-producing hardware such as virtual reality (VR) goggles to study task-related assessments of brain activation. For drug abuse research, study areas include brain/behavior correlations, cue exposure response, and neural regeneration post-usage. Other clinical research uses include brain plasticity research, rehabilitation of brain-injured patients, and spatial navigation.
The Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) will develop low-cost, easy-to-use, fully integrated virtual reality glasses for use inside an MRI magnet. The device will consist of the computer hardware, the VR glasses, and the wireless peripheral device used to interact with and explore the virtual world. Included with the device will be eye-tracking software and a currently existing VRMC virtual environment. The system will be inexpensive, easy to use, upgradeable, and reliable.
In Phase I, VRMC constructed a prototype of the low-cost fMRI-safe VR glasses, tested its safety in the laboratory, and performed human factors testing. In Phase II, VRMC plans to refine its Phase I prototype of low-cost fMRI-safe VR glasses; test their optical/visual, biodynamic, and acoustical properties in the laboratory; and perform clinical testing on 65 participants. This will test the physical performance of the VR glasses and determine whether participants are able to experience a strong feeling of presence and immersion in the virtual world during an fMRI brain scan.
Based on this project to create these fMRI-safe VR glasses, VRMC won a Technology Niche Assessment Program award from the National Institutes of Health in Fall 2006, and its 3rd NIH-CAP commercialization assistance award for the 2007–2008 fiscal year.
NIDA Teen Smoking
NIDA Internet-based Virtual Environment to Curb Teen Smoking
Smoking is an addiction that kills 440,000 Americans each year, yet 2,000 adolescents begin smoking every day. The Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) hopes to reach these smokers while they still have the chance to choose to quit. VRMC researchers are experts in the field of virtual reality (VR) and smoking, with experience conducting several smoking studies, including a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study.
We believe that our knowledge of smoking cues will successfully help smokers quit. We expect that smokers engaged in the Internet-based VR program will experience a reduction in urges to smoke and a decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked weekly.
The Internet-based VR game will guide smokers through several rooms and scenarios containing smoking cues. Participants will then learn how to face the cues and urges to smoke, and overcome them. In Phase II, a physiological monitoring system will be attached to the smokers so they can receive objective data as to how they are reacting to the smoking cues. This will better allow them to control their cravings and quit smoking. Through this VR game, VRMC will provide adolescents with an engaging tool to beat their smoking addiction.
VRMC has a business agreement in place to deliver this program to Department of Defense (DoD) dependents via DefenseWeb’s Xtendable Server (a .NET open standards modular application platform and content management system developed specifically to meet the changing requirements of the DoD).
Based on this VR game for health, VRMC won a Technology Niche Assessment Program award from the National Institutes of Health in January 2007.
Schering Plough Pharma/Driving
Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals’ Effect on Driving
Schering-Plough, a worldwide, research-based pharmaceutical company that spent $1.9 billion on R&D based on $9.5 billion in 2005 net sales, used The Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) as a study site to test the effect of 1 of its antihistamines on healthy people’s cognitive skills and mood.
In this blinded study, researchers enrolled 24 participants to compare the effects of a high dose of 3 over-the-counter allergy medications: fexofenadine, loratadine (the Schering-Plough manufactured drug), and ceritizine. The protocol required each participant to complete 6 visits, 1 week apart. Participants were required to abstain from caffeine or alcohol for 24 hours prior to each visit. At the beginning of each visit, each participant was given, at random, a pill containing 1 of the study medications or a sugar pill, then wait 1 hour for it to take effect. Each participant next carried out a computerized test of tracking ability while heart rate and respiration were monitored, then completed pencil-and-paper questionnaires about mood and sleepiness. The researcher observed and noted whether or not the participant seemed OK to drive, and arranged for a ride home for the participant if (s)he was judged too drowsy.
After this study was conducted, published studies showed that among antihistamines for drivers, loratadine or fexofenadine are probably preferable to ceritizine or older antihistamines (Morike, K., & Gleiter, ChH. (2003). Medicinal drugs and automobile driving ability. Ther Umsch, 60(6), 347–354).
U.S. Navy Mobile Medical Monitor
U.S. Navy Mobile Medical Monitor
The delivery of state-of-the-art healthcare continues to be a top priority for the military. The rapid assessment, triage, and transport of sick or injured personnel will continue to play a key role in reducing morbidity and mortality during wartime on the battlefield or during peacetime and humanitarian missions.
A portable medical device known as the Mobile Medical Monitor (M3) was developed and designed to be used in the field to support injury assessment through real-time vital signs monitoring. The vital signs monitored included EKG, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, and ultrasound. Because standard medical devices are usually large, expensive, and non-mobile, this program was one of the first attempts to consolidate and miniaturize off-the-shelf medical devices into an open-systems personal computer-based systems architecture. In this system, the multiple FDA-approved sensors were integrated into a portable, rugged existing military platform that allowed medical data to be transmitted over existing military bandwidth. Standard communications interfaces and existing data transfer protocols provided an exceptionally efficient method that improved healthcare for deployed forces. This important project represented successful implementation of 3 Congressional line items. As an employee of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Dr. Mark Wiederhold was the inventor of the Mobile Medical Monitor and was responsible for achieving FDA approval of the device in 4 months.
ARL Remote Identification
ARL Remote Identification of Suspicious Behavior and Intent of Humans
The goal of this collaboration among GTRI, VRMC, M.I.T., and the Research Laboratories of Delphi, Inc. is to identify suspicious behaviors and, where possible, to establish the subject’s intent. This will be done by using non-image based physiological measures and objective, quantifiable measures of behavior. The physiological measures will be drawn from polygraph and virtual medicine applications. The behavioral measures will be based on imaging sensors and advanced processing algorithms, which are already available in advanced vision systems developed by Georgia Tech.
A 5-step methodology will be used to develop these measures and integrate them into combined “signatures” for suspicious behaviors. First, experiments will be conducted in which human subjects act out suspicious behaviors in a social context, while the various measures are collected. In these experiments, the physiological measures will initially be collected with “contact” methods, and the behavioral measures will be interpreted by human observers. Second, stand-off or remote sensing methods will be developed for measuring the relevant physiological measures, and automatic image processing tools will be developed to replace the human interpreters. Third, the physiological measures will be combined with the image-based, behavioral measures to develop unique, multi-dimensional signatures that identify selected suspicious behaviors. Fourth, the sensors and processing methods will be tested in representative environments for several Concepts of Operation. Finally, the effectiveness of the system will be demonstrated in a working hardware/software prototype.
DARPA Cultural Influences on Virtual Reality Environment Response Behavior
Virtual environments offer a number of important and interesting situations that provide opportunities to explore an individual’s identity, personal likes and dislikes, and reaction to specific stimuli. When these scenarios are combined with real-time physiological monitoring, a totally controlled environment allows accurate responses to specific images and situations to be determined.
The purpose of this DARPA program was to explore and measure how culture influences responses to virtual environments. We used our clinical approach, which combines both subjective and objective measures to determine individual patterns of behavior. By modifying the virtual environment, we can determine which aspects of those environments offer tools for the exploration of personal characteristics that could be important to the military and intelligence community. In addition, we have developed a model that may be useful for the detection of deception in those individuals who do not respond to conventional methods used by law enforcement.
To further its reputation as a national-security company, VRMC joined the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), and is listed in the 2006 NDIA Corporate Index of Capabilities.
DARPA Human Identification at a Distance
DARPA Human Identification at a Distance (HID)
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) teamed with VRMC to develop and validate new, non-imaging biometrics based on dynamic physiological data, including ECG, pulse oximetry, blood pressure, and respiration. The team developed an extensive protocol to ensure a consistent experience across all subjects independent of age, gender, or ethnicity. Our experimental design included sampling a heterogeneous population. By monitoring the subjects for presence during the testing session, the team was able to take the subjects through multiple states of anxiety by performing a variety of project-related tasks. New signal processing methods were developed to analyze the physiological data, extract features, assess variability across subjects and tasks, and perform classification analysis.
In addition, SAIC was designated to develop the Human ID database that encompasses the information generated by the entire Human ID Program and to implement and host a set of face recognition algorithms to support research and testing. Dr. Mark Wiederhold, as an employee of SAIC, was the principal investigator for this project. VRMC now has an exclusive license to this technology, and is in discussions with a number of investment groups to develop an inexpensive device that could be used for screening. The paper publishing the results of the study, “ECG to identify individuals,” was selected by the SAIC Executive Science and Technology Council for a 2005 publication prize, and the project resulted in U.S. Patent No. 6993378, Identification by Analysis of Physiometric Variation, Mark D. Wiederhold et al. Recently, the study was featured in the Fall/Winter 2006 edition of SAIC Magazine: “Researchers such as Israel, Irvine, and Wiederhold have helped make SAIC a leader in developing and deploying new biometric technologies.”
HSARPA BioWatch Virtual Laboratory Orientation and Training
The goal was to create high-volume/low-cost BioWatch laboratory orientation and training for new and surge capacity laboratory technicians and decrease total lab tech training time. The project included 3 phases:
Phase I. Create movie: a self-guided tour of Level 3 virtual laboratory to orient trainees to equipment necessary to perform BioWatch laboratory testing procedures.
Phase II. Create 30-minute Internet-based, interactive virtual reality simulation that allows individual trainees to learn and practice BioWatch procedures in the simulated world before entering a real BioWatch laboratory. Secure database captures trainee credential and login information. Trainees are able to print certificate of completion and public health officials devote fewer personnel hours to training during surge capacity events and emergencies.
Phase III. Create commercialization-ready product that enhances the training experience by allowing multiple trainees to practice with each other and communicate in real time via VoIP; includes functionality upgrade and security improvements.
The Phase I project completed under the contract consisted of the following tasks:
Task 1. Create simulated BioWatch city laboratory virtual environment (month 1).
Task 2. Collect lab equipment specifications and photos (month 2).
Task 3. Develop script and storyboard (month 3).
Task 4. Create 15-minute virtual laboratory movie to orient surge capacity trainee to lab equipment and procedures (month 4).
Task 5. Test, debug, and revise virtual laboratory movie elements (month 5).
Task 6. Deliver BioWatch virtual laboratory 15-minute orientation movie on DVD (month 6).
Homeland security is important to the California Space Authority (CSA), and VRMC was nominated for a 2007 CSA California Innovation Award, recognizing 100 companies that made a difference.