We should not believe that technologies of virtual reality are only needed for games and other forms of entertainment. They provide much wider possibilities of application. Lithuanian scientists are ready to offer solutions of virtual and augmented reality, which are helpful in rehabilitation, promote physical activity, support companies to organise staff trainings, promote tourism and real estate market, and solve other urgent problems.
“Experts of economics from different countries estimate that global market of virtual and augmented reality should grow from 40 to 80 % during next 5 years. Lithuanian researchers working in the area see extremely wide-ranging possibilities of application for technologies of virtual and augmented reality. Virtual and augmented reality solutions are relevant in medicine and healthcare, education, sales, marketing and advertising, entertainment industry, tourism and culture, production and engineering, construction and interior design sectors, also in other areas,” claims Kęstutis Šetkus, Director of Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA).
When presenting technologies of virtual and augmented reality, Doc. Dr. Tomas Blažauskas, Head of Informatics Engineering Department from Faculty of Informatics in Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), is not inclined to underestimate the entertainment industry: “Gaming acted as a driving force allowing to elaborate the virtual and augmented reality technologies and to apply them in other areas. When a boring activity is transformed into a game, it will be performed much more efficiently. During workouts with various gym equipment, for example, monotonous movements must be repeated, which often leads to loss of motivation and interruption of workout. Inclusion of virtual reality provides some added benefit, since it helps transforming the boring activity into a game. Virtual reality gamification techniques can be applied very broadly, from education or productivity improvement to healthcare. An essential characteristic of virtual reality is its ability to trick human senses and to make the body believe it is in real – not virtual – environment. This provides a safe environment to diagnose various health conditions, to apply virtual reality for therapeutic purposes or to conduct realistic training.”
Real Health Benefits
Specialisation of KTU scientists is application of virtual and augmented reality technologies in medicine and healthcare. One of the most recent examples is a virtual reality game, adapted for balance training device – balancing platform ‘Abili Balance Analyzer’. Dr. Aurelijus Domeika, head of Mechatronics Laboratory of the KTU Mechatronics Institute, describes the product in more detail: “The ‘Abili Balance Analyzer’ is a balance testing and training device. It can be used by athletes to activate and strengthen the deep muscles, to improve balance and movement control, but also for patient rehabilitation. After climbing on the balancing platform and putting on virtual reality glasses, one can not only train, but also play a virtual educational game, where he or she is navigating a river standing on an unstable log. During the game, accuracy of movements is evaluated, points are scored, and levels of increasing complexity are introduced. The point is to make exercises on the platform more engaging and to motivate both athletes and patients to improve their results.”
The scientists do research to examine the impact of virtual reality games on exercises and they found that such games clearly increase motivation. On the other hand, the virtual reality is not acceptable for everyone and frequently some adaptation is necessary. “Virtual reality makes seemingly simple tasks more difficult, since most of us are not yet used to it. Some people must first learn doing the exercises using solely the platform and later they try balancing with virtual reality glasses on,” tells Aurelijus Domeika.
KTU has special laboratories, competences and experience to create virtual reality products. These evoke interest of business people from other countries as well. Virtual games for balancing systems received some serious attention from Italian company VertigoMed. Scientists from KTU Faculty of Informatics, in cooperation with Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, have also created unique technology to examine disorders of vestibular apparatus, where virtual reality is used as well. Some work is also performed in therapeutics, in creation of virtual reality applications intended to help managing various phobias, such as fear of public speakin
MITA specialists, referring to forecasts from international market research companies, claim that global costs for virtual and augmented reality technologies will exceed the limit of USD 20 billion this year. They also forecast a breakthrough of development and adaptation of such technologies in Lithuania within 5 to 10 years.
Open research and development network ‘Open R&D Lithuania’, supervised by the MITA, has gathered together state universities, research institutes, science and technology parks and open access centres all over the country to help Lithuanian researchers developing state-of-the-art technologies to meet with domestic and foreign businesses and to promote their cooperation. The largest network of innovation infrastructure, services and competences in the Baltics provides over 2.5 thousand services in the areas of engineering and IT, biomedicine and biotechnologies, materials science, physical and chemical technology, natural resources and agriculture.
To facilitate successful cooperation between business and science, the MITA has founded Contact Centre of the ‘Open R&D Lithuania’ network. It helps business to find suitable competences in research institutions, to find out where necessary services can be ordered and to arrange individual meetings.