University of Strathclyde Uses Virtual Reality To Help Hospice Patients Explore the World
When the newly built hospice opens in October, patients will get to experience new environments, they would not otherwise be able to, from their bedroom.
Undergraduate students Fraser Graham BSc (Hons) Software Engineering and Gary Rea MEng Computer and Electronic Systems have developed the virtual reality apps in a project for their honours degree dissertations.
When the new hospice opens in October following relocation, patients will be able to experience a new environment, they would not otherwise get the chance to experience, from their bedroom.
Paul McGinley, a patient suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy and who has been in a wheelchair for nearly 20 years, was given a preview of the app.
He said: “I really enjoyed it. It was a great experience to walk through the forest – somewhere I wouldn’t be able to go in my wheelchair.
Paul Quinn, who is 26 and has been in a wheelchair since he was 10, was also given a taster and described the walk through the forest as “absolutely brilliant”.
Fiona Wylie, The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice’s senior nurse for strategy implementation, explained that the young adult patients have been involved in the development, design, running and evaluation of a social group at the hospice to build resilience, self-esteem and confidence. The virtual reality project has been a part of the group’s activities.
She said: “The workshops encouraged discussion, feedback and demonstrations of the designed work. We will continue to explore further technology work with the young adults and the University of Strathclyde.”
Rea said that visiting the hospice and meeting the patients has been crucial element of the design process.
He explained: “I learned a lot about how people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy live and how they can interact with their environment, which was essential when developing a virtual reality environment.
“Many of the young men were gamers, which is something we have in common. Learning that a lot of them play the same games I do was interesting, and learning about the different controller preferences they had for gaming. Some had their own custom setups.
“Working with them was a pleasure. Their suggestions and feedback helped immensely in the development of the project.”
The current version of the application involves being able to visit a forest in virtual reality. Going forward there will be many different options the application can take and more environments can be added, such as castles and beaches.
Rea said: “An important aspect to focus on the application in the future is usability. Ideally this application aims to be usable by young people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who have unique needs for controlling the application, and a control scheme needs to be adopted to enable that.”
Fraser added: “As a virtual reality hobbyist, the opportunity to design and develop something useful using this technology stood out to me.
“Developing with a newer technology such as virtual reality hardware is always interesting by nature. Understanding the nuances of virtual reality-human interaction with limited research on this topic led to new-found knowledge I can use in future projects.
“I’m very thankful to the patients, their families and the staff at The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice for all of their help during the project. The software produced as a result of this project was proof of a concept demonstrating that virtual reality technology can be a powerful tool within healthcare.
“As the basis of the software is a video game-like virtual reality environment, there is a huge amount of scope for expansion: different input mechanics, larger game area and possibly integrations with the likes of video and music streaming services to be available within the virtual reality environment.”
Researchers on the project are aiming to secure further funding to enable expansion of the project.
Work started in September 2016 to build a new home for The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. The new facility, set in a 7.5-acre site in Bellahouston Park, will be one of the first in the country to transition young adult patients from children’s to adult hospice services.