The Power of Extended Reality I Sparta Health
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This post is by associate Triage Practitioner, and guest blogger, Matthew Savage 

Snapchat, the photo based social media platform, has recently announced that the company wants to “lead the way” in the use of augmented reality (AR) technology. Snapchat claim that AR is the future and its next product, artificial intelligence glasses called “Snap Spectacles”, aim to move the app and its software from phone to glasses.

However, augmented reality is not a term many people are familiar with, despite the claims it “changes the way we communicate with friends, learn about the world and shop” (Couchman, 2022). Many people do not understand the different between the terms virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR). So, what are the differences and why are these technologies so important for the future?

What is Extended Reality?

Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term for all real-and-virtual combined environments, including AR and VR. AR can be defined as the use of digital images to enhance real world environments, which can lead to computer-generated images, sounds and videos being digitally placed into the real world for an interactive experience. It is different from VR, which is the generation of a completely virtual world, replacing your existing world with digital content. A great example of AR can be gaming apps, such as the extremely popular Pokémon Go, which led to thousands of people walking around the streets of London collecting a whole array of digital creatures, potions and other special items. As well as gaming, companies such as Dulux have used AR to allow consumers to see how a paint colour might look in their living room, and Ikea have done the same, with an AR app that allows you to place digital furniture into your home before purchase. AR allows us to be able to interact with digital content, without typing into a computer or tapping on a phone. In addition to this, examples of VR include a variety of gaming, artistic and creative devices and apps. But outside of these realms, both VR and AR offer interesting and exciting advances in fields such as medicine, psychology and education, with these extended realities providing many exciting prospects for the future.

Exciting Uses for XR

In addition to retail and gaming uses, extended realities can contribute to a number of very important areas of life:

Psychological research and therapy – Because of its ability to tap into brain waves, VR has been shown to be helpful in cognitive behaviour therapy (Thong, 2018). Using VR and AR as an alternative to medication is already something that is proving valuable, with virtual experiences being used in stress management, phobia management (by allowing for virtual exposure therapy) and as a treatment for eating disorders. One study found that allowing people to experience life in a “healthy body” avatar facilitated a better body image in those with eating disorders (Keizer et al, 2016). VR and AR can also be utilised to allow experimentation of different future realities, which may prove beneficial in the treatment of anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders which are often driven by fear of the unknown. Both technologies offer perspective shifts which can be harnessed in a variety of ways, providing opportunities for counselling, clinical psychology and social change.

Medical uses – VR is already used in medical care, ranging from its uses to treat stroke patients by replacing things such as mirror therapy (tricking your brain into moving a paralyzed arm again by projection in a mirror) to surgical procedures. Real world health data may be projected onto life sized avatars of patients who are being examined. An AR body, showing X-rays and MRI overlays, the location of a particular pathology or an AR version of a patient could be examined by multiple people in multiple locations across the world, providing fantastic benefits for collaborative medical procedures and research.  

Educational uses – Generally it is believed that active learning, such as taking part in an activity, over passive learning, such as reading a book, will lead to greater levels of information retention. AR and VR allow for students to project full sized animals into the classroom, or 3D skeletons which allow interaction, overlays of skin and muscle to be added and removed, and group use, enhancing the learning environment. For example, the HoloLens 2 can allow for holograms to be placed in real space, using eye sensors, voice recognition, hand tracking and spatial tracking all to create an extremely realistic 3D projection. In addition to this, car engineers, pilots and even prisoners about to leave prison can benefit from learning opportunities using these technologies, practicing social skills and design.  

Social communication uses - Embodiment is known as a feeling of agency and control experienced within the body, but we are often not conscious of this. VR and AR have already been used to allow people to experience life from another person’s perspective, such as an elderly person, a person of another race or simply as a modified version of themselves (Columbia University, 2018). For example, a study from Stanford University placed participants into an avatar of an elderly person and this changed their perspective towards the elderly. AR and VR have been shown to be a reliable method in reducing negative social stereotypes in studies like these (Yee and Bailenson, 2006). This suggests that VR and AR can develop empathy and allows for better understanding of self-perception and self-image. In addition to this, holograms can be projected through EX glasses, allowing for communication to be easier, more realistic, save money, time and protect the environment. Some believe that glasses will be able to pick different levels of reality in the future, from just seeing the world plainly, to heightened reality, whereby wifi signals could be seen in the room, radio waves or other factors such as the strength of UV rays can be seen across a space.

Health and Fitness - Using AR to help people to be active and engage in the world is a goal that should be strived for. Pokemon Go is an excellent example of how AR can be used to take people out of their living rooms, off the couch and into the world to actively participate in a game. It is estimated that 6 billion miles were traversed by people playing Pokemon Go in just one year (Werner, 2019), and this is just one example of how such technology could help people to become more active. Bringing sports to the home for both viewing and playing will be a major part of XR in the future.

What are some of the concerns over XR?

As with all developing technologies, many concerns exist with XR technologies. These include:

Mental health concerns - From a psychological perspective, it can be worrying for many that the digital world may soon merge with the physical one. Many studies have tied social media to decreased, disrupted and delayed sleep, memory impairments, poor academic performance and increased levels of anxiety and depression (Pantic, 2014). AR uses such as Snapchat filters (AR overlays which can enhance people’s faces for selfies) can be dangerous to our self-esteem, our integrity and a driver in perpetuating poor self-images in young people. It is already estimated that the average person will take 27,500 selfies in their lifetime, equating to 52 hours a year (Werner, 2019), which is a lot of time to use tech to examine oneself. And with Snapchats announcement of a mini selfie drone name the “Pixy”, this number may increase. The development of XR will need to remain conscious of its addictive nature, its distractive ability and its ability to move people out of the real world and out of touch with reality.

Advertising exploitation – There is a real trend to use AR in wearable tech, with the primary focus being glasses. For example, the Microsoft HoloLens can allow users to pre-visualise anything before you buy it, switching between products with the swipe of a hand. This can allow a variety of experiences to take place, such as trying on clothes virtually or fitting a kitchen. However, this also means that AR and VR can be exploited by advertisers and the media to generate greater revenue for companies and to spread information and agendas. This information could be more convincing and more covert due to the ability of these technologies to tap into the psychological feeling of “presence’. This is the state of existing, occurring and being present in a place or thing (Thong, 2018) and VR can stimulate the motor cortex and sensory system, meaning it becomes harder to distinguish reality from virtual reality. This can lead to physical symptoms such as racing heart, sweaty palms and other distinct psychological reactions to stimuli and so users can feel more connected to what they are seeing. VR has also been linked with an increased recall of around 12%, meaning that these technologies have an ability to literally “get under our skin”, something which could be exploited or used for social engineering.

Privacy issues – As with all technological advances, fears over privacy and confidentiality are always a concern. AR technologies can see what a person is doing, use multiple sensor to collect data and can be manipulated by hackers in the same way other technologies can be. For example, instead of a link sent via an email, hackers could introduce items, fake signs or alerts which will be harder to distinguish from reality due to the nature of AR and may lead to users taking real life actions. The sheer amount of data and recording will need to be regulated.  

Conclusion

XR, AR and VR will continue to infiltrate our lives, for medical, educational and consumer purposes and the real world will merge with XR to some degree for us all. We can now create impressively detailed immersive worlds that can be seen as real, adding a new dimension to our lives. These technologies need to be monitored so the risk of exploitation is reduced, but they do offer exciting opportunities for learning, to test discrepancies from what we think, feel and know and can provide different perspectives of the world around us.

 

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage is an associate triage practitioner and neurological personal trainer. He has two masters degrees, one in psychology, another in clinical neuroscience at the distinction level and is also a Level 3 Personal trainer. Matthew combines his knowledge and interest in neuroscience, cognitive and physical rehabilitation and general wellbeing to provide positive physical and mental support to his clients.

References 

Abbott, R. (2022). Tech & Science Daily: Snapchat UK General Manager on ‘leading the way’ in AR. Evening Standard. London.

Keizer, A., van Elburg, A., Helms, R., & Dijkerman, H. C. (2016). A Virtual Reality Full Body Illusion Improves Body Image Disturbance in Anorexia Nervosa. PloS one11(10), e0163921. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0163921

Pantic I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking17(10), 652–657. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0070

Yee, N., & Bailenson, J.N. (2006). Walk a mile in digital shoes: The impact of embodied perspective-taking on the reduction of negative stereotyping in immersive virtual environments. Proceedings of PRESENCE 2006: The 9th Annual International Workshop on Presence. August 24 – 26, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

 

Extended Reality

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