Focus is the University of Haifa's English-language newspaper covering news and features about Israel's
"University of the North" Published 3-4 times a year, by the Division of External Relations and Resource Development

 

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SPRING 2005

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Computer Science and Occupational Therapy Team Up for Virtual Reality Conference
Student Develops Innovative Technology to Deal with Post-Traumatic Stress
A Dog Is also a Hit at Conference on Rehabilitation Technologies
 

Passengers who have undergone the horror and pain of a bus bombing on an Israeli road. American soldiers who have experienced the shelling or road-side attack of their humvee in Iraq. Survivors pulled out from under the ruins of a building following an earthquake. In each case, the victim may be severely scarred by trauma if not by physical injury, as well.
The use of virtual reality to deal with the effects of trauma caused by such events provided one focus of an international conference and exhibition held at the University in early March. The conference, “Virtual Reality, Associated Technologies, and Rehabilitation,” brought to the Mt. Carmel campus some of the leading researchers in the fields of occupational therapy and computer simulation from the United States, Canada, England, Spain, Italy, and Japan, as well as Israel.

Sponsors of the three-day gathering, which featured both talks and a showcase of technologies, were the University’s Rothschild Institute for Interdisciplinary Applications of Computer Science and the Dept. of Occupational Therapy, in conjunction with the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation.

The University’s Prof. Tamar Weiss and Dr. Naomi Josman described a virtual reality program for dealing with trauma victims of terrorist attacks. The simulation brings the traumatized individuals back to the scene of the incident to deal with their fears. The VR program is already in use.

The showcase involved a display of this innovative technology for treating severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The effect on the patient of recreating a terrorist incident through virtual reality is the subject of a Master's degree thesis being written by a student in the Department of Occupational Therapy. The technology itself, involving a helmet that puts the patient into the virtual scene, was developed in Seattle.

However, the university, through its Laboratory for Innovations in Rehabilitation Technology, which Weiss heads, is making the first use of it in Israel for both research and treatment, according to Josman. She is the graduate student's thesis adviser and conceived of the VR helmet’s adaptation to an Israeli virtual environment.

The graphic display of an exploding bus—a too common reality in Israel—is harrowing enough to watch on the television screen. The emotional effect of being put into the scene even virtually is more severe. But, says Josman, who chairs the Dept. of Occupational Therapy, it is necessary for the patient's eventual recovery from post-traumatic stress. For that reason, too, a clinical psychologist who teaches at the University accompanies the sessions administered by the occupational therapy student.
It was a little black dog of Japanese-Canadian pedigree that almost stole the show at the showcase.

The dog's "trainer" is Dr. Ehud Sharlyn, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, who has been programming for various human-robot interactions. Though you would never know it from the way university students and even professors were petting it and calling on this fido to sit up, Aibo, the dog, is actually a robot.
Sharlyn, who conducts his research in Calgary's Interactions Laboratory, and his students have been programming Aibo, originally developed by Japan's Sony corporation, to behave like a "very cute dog, playing with its bone and being friendly to people," as he put it. Its official moniker is Aibo ERS-7M2.

Though an expensive toy, costing some $2,000, Aibo can be used in rehabilitation, according to the Israeli-born Canadian scientist. His goal has been to "elicit human emotions and responses from a playful and fearful dog." People in need of rehabilitation, he explained, may perceive these synthetic emotions as though they elicited them. He cited autistic children and the lonely aged as two categories of people who could possibly benefit from the interaction. This dog, as he pointed out to onlookers at the showcase, makes no demands.

Sharlyn's former mentor at the University of Osaka in Japan, Prof. Yoshifumi Kitamura, also came to the Mt. Carmel campus. The Japanese information scientist showed a film of his virtual chopsticks at the rehabilitation showcase. He is investigating the changes that the brain undergoes as a person learns how to do some new activity, such as using a tool.
Other conference sessions were devoted to reality and simulation for homeland security response, simulation and sensing for emergency response, training for dealing with the effects of terror, applications of technologies to mental health and to rehabilitation, consciousness and presence, and collaborative interfaces.

Prof. Albert Rizzo of the University of Southern California discussed the development of a virtual reality therapy for Iraq War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. The talk by Dr. Russell Shilling of the U.S. Office of Naval Research centered on revolutionizing military medicine with virtual reality and entertainment
technologies.

The exhibition displayed, among others, systems for working with autistic children, VR games for improving motor and cognitive performance after a stroke, a system for diagnosing learning difficulties, and a driving simulator for rehabilitation patients.


 

In This Issue:

President’s Focus - Battling Unjust Resolutions

Prof. Azy Barak’s SAHAR Offers a Vital Virtual Shoulder to Those with Nowhere Else to Turn

University Joins War on Drugs,
Campaign Is Integral to Interdisciplinary Clinical Center’s Service

Kidma Project Helps Students Face Their Identities

University Will Not Be Silent in Face of UK Boycott

Anat Liberman Is New External Relations Head

Prof. Majid Al-Haj to Be New Dean of Research

Prof. Sophia Menache – New Dean of Graduate Studies

Prof. Menachem Mor—Dean of Humanities

Virtual Open House Proves a Big Hit

Students Have an Address for Complaints: Professor Schatzker, Their Ombudsman

Computer Science and Occupational Therapy Team Up for Virtual Reality Conference
Student Develops Innovative Technology to Deal with Post-Traumatic Stress

Giora Lehavi: His Job Is to Check on Quality Management, and Other Standards

University’s Sports Teams Prove a Winner in More Ways than One

Student Publishes His Road to Wisdom

Honors and Awards

Mother and Son—in utero—Studied Hebrew at University’s Summer Ulpan

University’s China Connection Continues

Unique Algorithm Enables Better Mobile Wireless Communication


 

 

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