Talk about your offbeat uses of virtual reality technology. Scientists at the University of California’s Institute for Creative Technologies have developed a VR-based system to help treat returning soldiers struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Virtual Iraq simulation, which runs on desktop PCs using head-mounted displays, recreates the sights, sounds and even smells of the battlefield, allowing soldiers to relive and confront their experiences in a controlled, physician-monitored environment, according to Dr. Skip Albert Rizzo, research professor and research scientist with ICT and one of the developer’s of the simulation. “This lets them back to Iraq in a very gradual fashion — that’s the beauty of simulation,” Rizzo says. “When they’re in a VR environment, we can put them back in that world and it takes the onus off of talk therapy.”
Virtual Iraq puts patients in three scenarios: In the desert in a Humvee, in a Middle Eastern city and in a village. Patients get immersed in the environment and the clinician can then escalate the experience with a mouse click based on the individual patient’s response. “It’s not an automated, self-help therapy, it’s a tool that in the hands of a trained clinician can be used to good effect,” Rizzo says.
There are approximately 20 sites in the U.S. working with the system, which can be assembled for under $8,000.