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Swedish Workshop on

The application of VR and agent technology for people with disabilities

January 23rd 1997, at SICS

Why use agents and VR?

The agent research area is fairly new. The vision is to create software modules that can act independantly, in open networks sometimes running errands on behalf of users, and sometimes forming multi-agent networks that solve complex problems. The more user-oriented agents, or personal assistants, are potentially useful as a means to aid disabled users. They can aid slow users to communicate more efficiently, or provide help adapted to disabled users that aids them to orient themselves or find information in the information space. As personal assistants can be adapted to an individual user or group of users both in terms of how they communicate with the user and what functionality they offer, they can potentially offer disabled users with a means to enter the information- and communication world on their own terms.

Virtual reality as a field of research has been associated with many promises for revolutionary applications, but is widely seen as delivering few. However many of the contributions from work in VR have been so basic they are difficult to point to. Many of the principles that form the foundation of VR have revolutionized the computer graphics industry. Every year more and more applications are introduced that are based on real-time interaction with three-dimensional worlds and objects. That concept is at the base of any VR system. One application area that benefited strongly from VR technology is tools for people with disabilities. Not all applications use gloves and head-mounted displays but the essence of many of these applications in VR is simply direct interaction and communication through computer augmented 3D environments.

There are many examples in this application area from talking lips for the hearing impaired, to therapy for persons with acrophobia. Other applications include rehabilitory exercise and novel interfaces for persons with central nervous system damage. For people with visual impairment, there are devices that allow a user to zoom an augmented picture of the world with the aid of an external camera. There are also systems that have tried to incorporate 3D environments in a tactile environment that allow a blind user to "feel" a desktop. Promoting "place-less" communication is an area of VR work encompising conferencing to 3d spaces. Some of this effort has gone toward reducing social isolation by creating inhabitated "worlds" that do not depend on physical location and allow both physically and practically distant users to share a space and communicate. "Virtual towns" have been designed to make daily business and consumer errands, as well as social counseling, available with a few mouse clicks. For care-givers there have also been 3D CAD based tools that allow supervisory environmental monitoring.

Purpose of the workshop

The main purpose of this workshop is to gather together professionals interested in the fields of Agents, VR, and applications of technology for persons with disabilities and in order to help extract out the most enabling aspects of these technologies for applications and continued work in creating tools to aid in the social integration of persons with disabilities.

Kristina Höök