Wenn Camilla Wieck, who lives in Wiesbaden, Germany, wants to take a walk in the woods, she first gets comfortable in the living room of her home. Then she puts on virtual reality (VR) goggles and escapes out into nature. Wherever she looks, she’s surrounded by trees. Green leaves sway in the breeze, shadows dance on the forest floor. In actuality, Wieck is confined to a wheelchair due to a muscular disorder and it is difficult for her to spontaneously go on any outings.
When Mikhail Dubovtsev, in Minsk, Belarus, wants to train his motor skills, he plays a game in the virtual world. To do this, the six-year-old uses VR goggles and a sensor on his arm. The sensor tracks how Mikhail turns his wrist and simulates the movement in VR. With every turn of his actual arm, a virtual arm in the game turns, enabling Mikhail to swing a ball from left to right and hit various targets. Patients with cerebral palsy in Belarus and Great Britain practice moving their arms in a controlled manner with the help of VR physiotherapy.
When Josephine Schipke wants to learn how printing processes work, as part of her professional training, the budding media designer can visit a virtual print shop. The VR educational content for people with disabilities was developed by a team at the Oberlin Vocation Training College in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin. Schipke, who uses a wheelchair due to chronic joint stiffness, tests the VR module as part of her own training, to make it more accessible for people with physical limitations.
With virtual reality, users can delve into a virtual world. It works with a combination of special software and VR goggles, which are equipped with a high-resolution display and head tracking sensors. Every movement is transported into the virtual world, thereby creating an immersive experience—the feeling of being fully physically present in the virtual world.
Three people with physical disabilities are using virtual reality for learning, training and traveling. The technology has simplified something that used to be difficult for them. In this niche, VR is bringing more self-determination to people’s lives. Virtual reality used to be considered a technology of the future and was supposed to fundamentally alter the worlds of work and daily life. Seven years ago, when entrepreneur Palmer Luckey was just twenty years old, he inspired the technology world with an immature prototype of VR goggles. Why? Because Luckey’s design was the first to show that VR goggles could be produced at a relatively low cost. When the first model was ready for market four years later, experts outdid one another with predictions of its success. VR was going to be the next big thing, with fashionistas trying on clothing using VR, vacationers scoping out their destination beforehand and music lovers attending concerts virtually. Yet it never became the next big thing and the euphoria quickly faded. In 2019, a mere 3 percent of Germans owned VR goggles. Yet the examples from Wiesbaden, Minsk and Potsdam demonstrate the incredible value of this technology today.
HOPE FOR PATIENTS WITH PARALYSIS
Mikhail Dubovtsev slowly turns his right wrist. From left to right, then back again. The six-year-old is wearing VR goggles, which cover almost his entire face, and a sensor on his arm. The sensor transmits all of Mikhail’s movements into the virtual world. As in a carnival game, Mikhail must hit various round targets with the ball. But instead of throwing, he moves the virtual ball by turning his wrist. He gets points for every hit. “I got the high score of one thousand points right at the start,” Mikhail says with pride.