Griffith researchers’ bold VR idea wins bionics challenge

A Griffith team of researchers is using virtual reality to tackle spatial neglect.

Griffith University researchers have won a major prize at the inaugural Bionics Queensland Challenge and their artificial intelligence (AI) enabled virtual reality (VR) system could change the way people suffering spatial neglect after a brain injury are assessed and treated.

Dr David Painter, Professor Heidi Zeeman and Dr Trevor Hine – from The Hopkins Centre at Griffith – won the ‘Neural and AI-Enabled Bionics’ category. Dr Painter said they would use the $50,000 prize money to fast track the cutting-edge idea into a better solution for people with spatial neglect.

Professor Heidi Zeeman.

The winning team brought together neuroscience, AI and gaming to assess and treat spatial attention following brain injury, creating a novel VR platform calledAttention Atlas.

Spatial attention is used for observing things in another visual field without moving the eye – like in our peripheral vision when driving.

“Brain injury is often associated with hidden cognitive disabilities that are only understood by the person who experiences them,” neuropsychologist Professor Heidi Zeeman said.

“What our technology allows us to do is to visualise the internal, to make it obvious to the person what their brain is doing, and that gives us an opportunity for rehabilitation.”

Dr David Painter.

Attention Atlas maps attention in a three-dimensional virtual space by allowing a high fidelity assessment of spatial attention, accurately pinpointing visuospatial neglect in ways that cannot currently occur.

“We can (use AI to) measure attention during a simple letter task and apply this to the measurement of attention during the driving simulator,” Dr Painter said.

“AI enables us to analyse the patterns of attention and redesign the game to improve driving-related attention.

“Using gaming technology, VR headsets and gaming scenarios, we will be able to improve spatial attention for the first time”.

Cognitive psychology expert Dr Trevor Hine said the VR gaming format could even help people stick to their rehabilitation program.

“It’s a way of bring in gaming into rehabilitation and making it fun.”

“People are more likely to take it up, but best of all, they can do it at home,” Dr Hine said.

Dr Painter said it was great to win the Bionics Queensland Challenge and the experience had provided them with many advantages.

“Bionics Queensland has provided a platform to meet and interact with fellow innovators, working together to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities,” Dr Painter said,

“It is exciting to see things as they are progressing and help to progress and make lives better for everyday people.”

Griffith Bachelor of Games Design alumnus Elliot Miller also won an Early Innovation Award at the challenge for his app Hearoes.

The app uses gamification to help those who have experienced hearing loss to achieve goals of hearing and identifying new sounds.