Virtual reality for mobile environments and extreme conditions
I.C.E.B.E.R.G. is a French company that developed an operational Virtual Reality system for space: EVE (Exercise in Virtual Environments). Developed as a psychological counter-measure to alleviate the effects of confinement and monotony in long duration missions, the technology can also be used in other extreme environments such as submarines or polar bases. Its main advantage is the ability to operate in mobile environments, where the inertial frame of reference extends beyond the room
Repetitive physical exercise sessions are part of the everyday life of astronauts living in the International Space Station. Virtual Reality (VR) can be used as a means to maintain motivation for physical exercise and reduce monotony.
In cooperation with the French creator of VR applications MiddleVR, the EVE prototype was designed by ICEBERG (Isolated & Confined Environments Behavior & Emotions Research Group) in order to comply with the strict requirements of a space utilisation.
The device immerses the user in a virtual landscape (including distant horizon, sounds, animations plants animals, climate), with the possibility of full-body interaction and vection thanks to an occlusive HMD. Pedalling on an ergometer allows ample, yet secure movements of the whole body. Muscular action is therefore used as an input for movement in the scene: the user moves along a virtual rail track.
Terrestrial applications include counter-measures for elderly and sick populations who remain confined for extended periods of time, as well as bed-rest studies that simulate weightlessness. Physical rehabilitation also represents a potential application for this system.
Innovations & Advantages
As opposed to traditional Virtual Reality devices, E.V.E. is able to operate in mobile and unusual environments such as microgravity and strong magnetic fields, where magnetometers and accelerometers cannot be trusted in traditional MEMS sensor fusion.
In further implementations, the EVE system may track the whole body, and allow the user to change the landscape, virtual vehicle and scenario of use. Such features will increase the compliance of users on longer sessions, and improve reusability through more diverse virtual environments, vection methods, and tasks: free ride, time challenges, observation challenges, competition with self or others, and finally cooperation with another user inside the habitat or back home. This last feature also addresses another typical stress factor in extreme environments: social isolation.
Current and Potential Domains of Application
E.V.E. is a virtual reality system designed to allow for enhanced physical exercise in the operational contexts of spaceships, submarines and polar stations. Other applications such as physical rehabilitation in the medical sector can also be considered.