Virtual reality, technology that gives users the feeling they are somewhere else, can be of great value in treating people suffering from a variety of physical or psychological conditions.
Therapy based on the technology is being used in a small number of U.S. clinics to treat burn victims and people with phobias, such as the fear of flying, spiders and heights. Researchers say the technology holds enormous promise for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions and for use as a distraction technique in painful dental and medical procedures, including chemotherapy and physical therapy.
Advances in the technology, such as higher-resolution head-mounted displays, will most likely help virtual reality take its place among more mainstream treatments, say researchers.
Virtual reality generally involves a computer-generated, multidimensional sensory environment that users experience via interface tools that enable them to immerse themselves in the environment, navigate within it and interact with objects and characters inhabiting the environment.
In SnowWorld, the first virtual environment designed specifically for treating burn victims, patients undergoing painful treatments can fly through an icy canyon and shoot snowballs at snowmen, igloos, robots and penguins standing on narrow ice shelves or floating in a river.
The virtual reality treatment is successful because the patient's attention is no longer focused on the wound or the pain, but rather on the virtual world, says SnowWorld's developer, Hunter Hoffman.
While the medical applications of virtual reality are promising, more needs to be done before it will become a widely accepted and practiced clinical treatment.
“The innovators in medical VR will be called upon to refine technical efficiency and increase physical and psychological comfort and capability while keeping an eye to reducing costs for health care,” says research scientist Walter Greenleaf, president of Greenleaf Medical Group.
Greenleaf Medical is a Palo Alto, Calif.-based consortium of companies working to advance the development of new technologies in medicine.
Virtually Better President and CEO Ken Graap says he thinks companies will make wireless trackers——devices that measure movement and translate it into computer commands——and introduce better-resolution head-mounted displays with wider fields of view within the next five years.
Graap says that virtual reality technology will become wireless and patients won't have to be tethered to a computer ——allowing them to be treated at home. “I can envision people having a station at home and being connected through a telepresence to a therapist,” he says. “So in one window, there's a therapist who's encouraging the patient or helping control the desktop, and in the other window, there's the person who's receiving help.”
Virtually Better公司总裁兼CEO Ken Graap认为，在今后五年中，有些公司将制造出无线的跟踪器（能测量运动并将它转变成计算机命令的设备），以及推出分辨力更高、视野更宽的头戴式显示器。
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