Exciting things are happening at the IDC Advanced Virtuality Lab. In a conversation with Dr. Doron Friedman who is head of the lab and a Senior Lecturer in the Sammy Ofer School of Communications, we got a glimpse of where virtual reality research is headed. Friedman has recently been awarded a grant by the Joy Foundation which will fund a new project focused on coping with stress using virtual reality and machine learning.
Friedman has a diverse background that bridges academic life with more applied work experience. With a Phd in Computer Science, he started out as an entrepreneur — inventing several patents and commercial products as well as being a co-founder and CTO of Earthnoise.com. He set up the IDC Advanced Reality Lab a few years ago with the main interest of his research being human machine confluence. His research has an interdisciplinary approach, centered around the interaction between people and computers, and how this effects their social and psychological well-being. The lab staff come from various disciplines: communication, psychology and computer science, making it a truly multi-disciplinary collaboration.
The lab focuses on what Friedman calls two extreme technologies. The first is virtual reality as the ultimate mediated experience, where your senses are controlled to construct a radical experience of reality. The second is brain computer interface, where you control devices with your thoughts. Pivotal breakthroughs in the recent years have heightened the interest of key players in the industry such as Google, Facebook and Apple, to name a few, who are spending billions of dollars on developing more advanced systems. Needless to say, virtual reality will be in our homes much sooner than we think. Friedman suspects that desktop computers and keyboards will be entirely replaced by virtual reality devices in the next generation. The current misconception is that virtual reality is largely for entertainment, but it actually has the potential to be used for much more sophisticated applications such as psychotherapy, which the IDC lab is working on at the moment.
Research in brain computer interface is being applied to paralyzed patients who are conscious but unable to move any muscles. The technology allows these patients to communicate their thoughts via a device attached to their scalp. The research is also finding ways to be able to manipulate your environment to adapt and respond to your cognitive and emotional state. Though the research in this field is still rather visionary, Friedman strongly believes the results have the potential to change the approach of medical treatments as well as be an aid to the average healthy population facing daily stressors. For example, your smart phone knows when you are stressed and will delay displaying a certain message that may cause more stress until the phone asserts a better time for you to see the message. The goal is for the technological devices to understand and adapt to our well-being and this is where Friedman’s current project can lead to products or other research that makes this goal a reality.