USA — Avatar Project Seeks to Help Military Amputees

FORT DETRICK, Md. — In the block­buster movie “Avatar,” Jake Sul­ly, a for­mer Marine who lost the use of both legs in com­bat, climbs into a ves­sel that mag­i­cal­ly restores his body when he assumes a new, 10-foot-tall avatar iden­ti­ty.

A new project being fund­ed through the Advanced Army Med­ical Tech­nol­o­gy Ini­tia­tive promis­es to bring some of that same tech­nol­o­gy to real-life wound­ed war­riors to pro­mote their reha­bil­i­ta­tion and help to ease their rein­te­gra­tion into soci­ety.

The Amputee Vir­tu­al Envi­ron­ment Sup­port Space project aims to cre­ate a vir­tu­al world in which mil­i­tary and vet­er­an amputees can swap infor­ma­tion and pro­vide the peer sup­port many lose when they leave mil­i­tary treat­ment facil­i­ties, explained Ash­ley Fish­er, a pro­gram man­ag­er at the Army’s Telemed­i­cine and Advanced Tech­nol­o­gy Research Cen­ter here.

The project will pro­vide wound­ed war­riors a spe­cial­ized ver­sion of the pop­u­lar “Sec­ond Life” com­put­er sim­u­la­tion game, Fish­er said. Users will log onto the pro­gram through their com­put­ers to cre­ate an avatar of them­selves — essen­tial­ly a vir­tu­al being, com­plete with the phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics they assign it.

The avatar will be able to inter­act with oth­er reg­is­tered avatar beings – fel­low amputees, care­givers, even friends and loved ones – in a vir­tu­al world that’s unen­cum­bered by the restric­tions of time, dis­tance or dis­abil­i­ty.

As AVESS devel­ops, users also may be able to check in with their pro­fes­sion­al care­givers, ask­ing ques­tions, get­ting infor­ma­tion updates, and even see­ing online demon­stra­tions of the best way to do a phys­i­cal ther­a­py exer­cise or adjust a pros­thet­ic device.

The Telemed­i­cine and Advanced Tech­nol­o­gy Research Cen­ter award­ed a con­tract to ADL Co. last fall to assess the program’s fea­si­bil­i­ty and iden­ti­fy the best way to deliv­er it to mil­i­tary amputees.

“We tasked them with com­ing up with a roadmap, let­ting us know what was pos­si­ble in devel­op­ing a vir­tu­al world for amputee vet­er­ans, and let­ting us know what issues there are in terms of pri­va­cy, access, authen­ti­cat­ing who was com­ing into the envi­ron­ment, all those types of issues,” Fish­er said.

In wrap­ping up the first phase, the com­pa­ny cre­at­ed a demon­stra­tion envi­ron­ment using a stan­dard Sec­ond Life plat­form. “So we did a walk-through of that, and got to see what the capa­bil­i­ties were,” Fish­er said.

The first phase also demon­strat­ed the need for a secure serv­er to deny access to unau­tho­rized play­ers and par­tic­i­pants known as “griefers,” who just want to annoy or cause trou­ble for the oth­er play­ers.

“We want­ed to avoid that, because we real­ly did want the vet­er­ans to be able to go in and express the issues they are hav­ing with the peo­ple they know are going through the same thing,” Fish­er said. “And also, we need­ed it to be secure, because we want to try to bring fam­i­lies, and pos­si­bly even chil­dren, into the world, and we can’t real­ly do that on the reg­u­lar Sec­ond Life plat­form.”

So dur­ing AVESS’ sec­ond phase, to begin soon, ADL will devel­op a vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment on Sec­ond Life Enter­prise, an updat­ed ver­sion of Sec­ond Life, using a pri­vate, secure serv­er.

Com­par­ing the con­cept to what movie­go­ers saw on the big screen in “Avatar,” Fish­er said she sees tremen­dous ther­a­peu­tic val­ue in enabling amputees to define their avatars as they choose, and to immerse them­selves in those char­ac­ter­is­tics as they inter­act with oth­er avatars.

Some may elect to reveal their ampu­ta­tions in their avatars, assign­ing them pros­thet­ic limbs to match their own. Oth­ers may choose not to, pre­fer­ring to use the vir­tu­al world as a tem­po­rary escape, as depict­ed in the “Avatar” movie when Jake’s avatar was able not only to walk, but also to fly among the beings in the mag­i­cal land of Pan­do­ra.

But for users in the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, Fish­er said, she expects many to reveal their true char­ac­ter­is­tics as they become more com­fort­able com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­er peo­ple in the vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment.

For some, the trans­for­ma­tion may come as users come to accept them­selves and their new appear­ance – some­thing Fish­er said is dif­fi­cult enough in a hos­pi­tal set­ting, where mil­i­tary amputees are sur­round­ed by oth­er peo­ple who look like them, but even more so as they try to rein­te­grate into their com­mu­ni­ties.

Fish­er called AVESS a promis­ing new devel­op­ment at the Army’s Telemed­i­cine and Advanced Tech­nol­o­gy Research Cen­ter, which is over­see­ing the pro­gram for the Army Med­ical Research and Materiel Com­mand.

“Our man­date is to explore new tech­nol­o­gy and how it can sup­port ser­vice per­son­nel,” she said. “This is an excit­ing project for [the research cen­ter], because it will let us define what we see as a poten­tial­ly effec­tive way to pro­vide anoth­er form of sup­port to mil­i­tary amputees.”

Alice Kruger, pres­i­dent of the non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion Vir­tu­al Abil­i­ty — which is col­lab­o­rat­ing with ADL on the project — shares Fisher’s excite­ment about the doors AVESS will open to enhance wound­ed war­riors’ qual­i­ty of life.

“For indi­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties, vir­tu­al worlds are a pow­er­ful way to con­nect with oth­ers, to access peer sup­port and to par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties that might not oth­er­wise be pos­si­ble,” she said. “This project will estab­lish the best way to adopt this tech­nol­o­gy for the unique needs of the mil­i­tary amputee com­mu­ni­ty.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →