Safely Dive Into Your Fears with Virtual Reality

What makes you afraid? Not like jump-scares in movies or the rush of a roller-coaster, but what are your legitimate fears that qualify as phobias? Spiders? Clowns? Blood? Flying? Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are experimenting with exposure therapy in virtual reality to help people manage their fears. For some phobias, like arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, this seems like a perfect fit. If you are certain that you are safely in a spider-free laboratory wearing a VR headset, and you see a giant spider crawling across your field of vision, the fear may be more manageable than being asked to put your hand into a populated spider tank.

After the experimental therapy, participants were asked to take the spider tank challenge. Subjects who were not shown VR spiders were less enthusiastic about keeping their hands in the tank. This is not definitive proof, but it is a promising start.

High-end VR equipment and homemade rigs are in the budget for many gamers and hackers, and our archives are an indication of how much the cutting-edge crowd loves immersive VR. We have been hacking 360 recording for nearly a decade, long before 360 cameras took their niche in the consumer market. Maybe when this concept is proven out a bit more, implementations will start appearing in our tip lines with hackers who helped their friends get over their fears.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Photo by Wokandapix.

The Cyborgs Among Us: Exoskeletons Go Mainstream

Every technological advancement seems to have a sharp inflection point, a time before which it seems like any early adopters are considered kooks, but beyond which the device or service quickly becomes so mainstream that non-adopters become the kooky ones. Take cell phones, for example – I clearly remember a news report back in the 1990s about some manufacturers crazy idea to put a digital camera in a phone. Seemingly minutes later, you couldn’t buy a phone without a camera.

It seems like we may be nearing a similar inflection point with a technology far more complex and potentially far more life-altering than cameras in cell phones: powered exoskeletons. With increasing numbers of news stories covering advancements in exoskeletal assistants for the elderly, therapeutic applications for those suffering from spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative diseases, and penetration into the workplace – including the battlefield – as amplifiers of human effort, it’s worth taking a look at where we are with exoskeletons before seeing someone using one in public becomes so commonplace as to go unnoticed.

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The Ins and Outs of Geiger Counters, for Personal Reasons

There are times in one’s life when circumstances drive an intense interest in one specific topic, and we put our energy into devouring all the information we can on the subject. [The Current Source], aka [Derek], seems to be in such a situation these days, and his area of interest is radioactivity and its measurement. So with time to spare on his hands, he has worked up this video review of radioactivity and how Geiger counters work.

Why the interest in radioactivity? Bluntly put, because he is radioactive, at least for the next week. You see, [Derek] was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and one of the post-thyroidectomy therapeutic options to scavenge up any stray thyroid cells is drinking a cocktail of iodine-131, a radioisotope that accumulates in thyroid cells and kills them. Trouble is, this leaves the patient dangerously radioactive, necessitating isolation for a week or more. To pass the time away from family and friends, [Derek] did a teardown on a commercial Geiger counter, the classic Ludlum Model 2 with a pancake probe. The internals of the meter are surprisingly simple, and each stage of the circuit is easily identified. He follows that up with a DIY Geiger counter kit build, which is also very simple — just a high-voltage section made from a 555 timer along with a microcontroller. He tests both instruments using himself as a source; we have to say it’s pretty alarming to hear how hot he still is. Check it out in the video below.

Given the circumstances, we’re amazed that [Derek] is not only keeping his cool but exhibiting a good sense of humor. We wish him well in his recovery, and if doing teardowns like this or projects like this freezer alarm or a no-IC bipolar power supply helps him cope, then we all win.

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Help With Stuttering Could Come From Electricity

At the University of Oxford, [Jen Chesters] conducts therapy sessions with thirty men in a randomized clinical trial to test the effects of tDCS on subjects who stutter. Men are approximately four times as likely to stutter and the sex variability of the phenomenon is not being tested. In the randomized sessions, the men and [Jen] are unaware if any current is being applied, or a decoy buzzer is used.

Transcranial Direct Current, tDCS, applies a small current to the brain with the intent of exciting or biasing the region below the electrode. A credit-card sized card is used to apply the current. Typically, tDCS ranges from nine to eighteen volts at two milliamps or less. The power passing through a person’s brain is roughly on par with the kind of laser pointer you should not point straight into your eyeball and is considered “safe,” with quotation marks.

A week after the therapy, conversational fluency and the ability to recite written passages shows improvement over the placebo group which does not show improvement. Six weeks after the therapy, there is still measurable improvement in the ability to read written passages, but sadly, conversational gains are lost.

Many people are on the fence about tDCS and we urge our citizen scientists to exercise all the caution you would expect when sending current through the brain. Or, just don’t do that.

Exoskeleton Designed for Children

Exoskeletons are demonstrably awesome, allowing humans to accomplish feats of strength beyond their normal capacity. The future is bright for the technology — not just for industrial and military applications, but especially in therapy and rehabilitation. Normally, one thinks of adults who have lost function in their limbs, but in the case of this exoskeleton, developed by The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), children with spinal muscular atrophy are given a chance to lead an active life.

Designing prosthetics for children can be difficult since they are constantly growing, and CSIC’s is designed to be telescopic to accommodate patients between the ages 3-14. Five motors in each leg adapt to the individual symptoms of the patient through sensors which detect the child’s intent to move and simulates what would be their natural walking gait.

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Teaching children to walk using video games

team_equiliberator

Medical conditions that prevent individuals from being able to walk are difficult to handle, even more so if the patient happens to be a child. Shriner’s hospitals treat a good number of children suffering from cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or amputations. They are always looking for creative treatment methods, so their Motion Analysis Laboratory looked to some Rice University undergrads for help. They asked the group of engineers to design a system that would make physical therapy a bit more fun, while helping encourage the children along.

The team recently unveiled their project, called the Equiliberator. The game system incorporates a series of five Wii balance boards situated between a pair of pressure-sensitive handrails. The platform communicates with a computer via Bluetooth, registering the patient’s movements as he or she moves along the path. The software portion of the system consists of a monster-slaying game which requires the child to step on a particular section of the pathway to dispose of the oncoming enemies.

The game is designed to get more difficult as the child’s balance and coordination improve, encouraging them with an ever growing bank of points as they progress. The final goal of the project is to enable the pressure sensitive handrails to determine how much the child is relying on them for balance, offering in-game incentives to walk with as little support as possible.

We love seeing hacks like this which not only entertain, but truly help people in the process. Kudos to the team at Rice University – they have done a fantastic job here.

Continue reading to see a quick video describing the Equiliberator in the designers’ own words.

[via MedGadget]

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