A Virtual Reality scenario developed by University of Birmingham researchers is featuring in a unique experiment at a Canadian Military Base on Ellesmere Island, the most northern, permanently inhabited place in the world. 

The goal of the research is to find effective ways to maintain and even improve astronauts’ psychological health and well-being on future long-duration space flights to Mars, or during long deployments in space stations and planetary bases.

Virtual Wembury is a virtual reality reconstruction, developed by Dr Cheng Qian and Professor Bob Stone of the Human Interface Technologies (HIT) team in the School of Engineering, which allows users to tour part of the south-west coastal path in Devon.

Virtual Wembury

Physician and former NASA astronaut, Professor Jay Buckey, is leading a team of researchers at Geisel School of Medicine, part of Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire. Together, Bob and Cheng have been working closely with the US team to modify the software for use with a range of new technologies, including head-mounted displays.

Professor Stone said, “This is a really exciting development and enables us to get involved in a new research field that is closely related to the healthcare focus we currently have with colleagues at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.  Through an opportunistic contact with a member of Professor Buckey’s team on LinkedIn, it became obvious that the two academic groups had very synergistic programmes and research goals.  It was quite a challenge subsequently to adapt the Virtual Wembury scenario so that it could feature in the Arctic Base trials, but now that we have, we can certainly re-use the scenario for a whole host of future healthcare applications”. 

On this side of the Atlantic, Virtual Wembury is currently part of a project sponsored by the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, evaluating the impact of virtual scenes of nature on the rest and recovery patterns of patients within the Intensive Care Unit of Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.