Author: Ross Smith

Virtual Reality Pain Therapy Research System

Markus Brocker (11)

Working in close collaboration with Health Sciences Dr Ross Smith developed a virtual reality simulation system to support research into chronic neck pain therapies. The systems adopts a well know technique, amongst Virtual Reality researchers, called “re-directed walking” which alters user perception between the physical and virtual worlds. Re-directed walking applies a slight correction to the participant’s orientation so in the physical world their movement is different from the virtual environment. With this users in the virtual environment can perceive they are walk along an infinantely straight line although in the physcial world they are actually walking in circles.

The re-directed walking method was adopted to alter the head movements of 24 participants suffering chronic neck pain. Participants wore an Oculus Rift Head Mounted Display and were asked to rotate their head left and right until their first onset of pain. The system changed participant’s perception so as the actual movement could be more, less or the same as what is perceived in the virtual world. The study showed that participants had more pain free head rotation when the system reduced appearance from the actual head rotation allowing 6% improvement in head mobility. The initial findings are positive that such techniques might be further developed and used in future therapies that employ virtual reality systems. The full article was published in the Journal of Psychological Science.

Pain is a perceptual response, one that researchers are finding is influenced by contextual, psychological, and sensory factors. In a study of the influence of visual feedback on pain, participants with neck pain rotated their heads while receiving different types of visual feedback through a virtual reality headset. The visual feedback gave the illusion that participants had turned their heads more, less, or to a degree equal to the actual physical rotation. Participants had a larger pain-free range of motion when they received understated visual feedback and a smaller pain-free range of motion when they received overstated visual feedback. The authors posit that, over time, sensory factors associated with pain may turn into triggers for the pain itself.


Daniel S. Harvie, Markus Broecker, Ross T. Smith, Ann Meulders, Victoria J. Madden, and G. Lorimer Moseley

Bionic Eye Simulator


NICTA staff Paulette Lieby, Chris McCarthy and Ashley Stacey with UniSA’s Thuong Hoang and Ross Smith.
NICTA staff Paulette Lieby, Chris McCarthy and Ashley Stacey with UniSA’s Thuong Hoang and Ross Smith.

University of South Australia researchers are using their augmented reality expertise to progress ground-breaking bionic eye research in Australia.

The Wearable Computer Lab at UniSA has created a backpack wearable computer kit that will be used for vision simulation studies being undertaken by the Vision Processing team at National Information Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) and Bionic Vision Australia.

“Using our system, Bionic Vision Australia will run studies allowing anyone to see as close as possible what someone with a bionic eye would be seeing,” said Dr Ross Smith, Co-Director of the Wearable Computer Lab.

Dr Smith presented the system with PhD candidate Thuong Hoang to NICTA and Bionic Vision Australia last month. The wearable kit has received a very positive response with several more systems ordered to be built for research with sighted participants.

“This is the second backpack design we have developed for NICTA,” Dr Smith said.

“The new version was inspired with recent miniaturization of electronics that allowed us to build a more usable, lightweight, reliable and effective solution.

“The new backpack provides more processing power, has a reduction in weight and size, advanced battery technologies and is a more robust design to support trials.

“The staff were very impressed with the new solution.”

Nick Barnes, Senior Principal Researcher, NICTA, and Vision Processing Leader, Bionic Vision Australia, is looking forward to using the new system for simulated prosthetic vision trials.

“We are very pleased with the new solution,” Barnes said. “It is lighter weight, more reliable, significantly more comfortable for our volunteer participants, and has extra features that will broaden the types of trial we can undertake.”

Dr Smith said the Wearable Computer Lab team now has significant prototyping capabilities and is excited to use its capability to support research that aims to restore vision to those who have lost it.

Bionic Vision Australia is leading the work on the bionic eye, currently working on three bionic eye devices. The bionic eye system would consist of a small digital camera, external processor and an implant with a microchip and stimulating electrodes surgically placed in the back of the eye. It will be used to restore a sense of vision to people with retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.

UniSA’s Wearable Computer Lab has been collaborating with NICTA on this project for a few years now, and following the positive response to the new backpack wearable computer kit, it has planned future directions for the system that will allow it to continue the collaboration.

Testing the backpack wearable computer kit.
Testing the backpack wearable computer kit.
Part of the headset component of the backpack wearable computer kit.
Part of the headset component of the backpack wearable computer kit.