Virtual Presence Limited
Virtual Presence is one of the most experienced and longest-standing VR companies in the world. The company?s London-based headquarters focuses on third-party hardware/software distribution (including immersive projection technologies) and applications development, notably in the areas of medical simulation, corporate marketing, visitor centre integration, special film and media productions and financial data visualisation. VP?s award-winning Manchester division (based in Sale, Cheshire) focuses on consultancy and development projects in retail, engineering, defence, heritage, education and human factors. The Paris-based Sim Team mirrors the activities of its British counterparts on the continent, with all 3 divisions often conjoining as contributors to European collaborative projects. Virtual Presence has received numerous international accolades and awards for its VR research, development and applications work. The company is also a founding member of the UK Government?s VR Forum (Department of Trade & Industry) and the new Institute of Nanotechnology and is involved with many world-wide VR initiatives, from World Heritage and UNESCO to consultancy projects supporting experimental research efforts in West Virginia, USA, to the activities of Japan?s Virtual Systems & Multi Media (VSMM) organisation.
In brief, VP supplies an unrivalled range of interactive computing products. In the displays arena, for example, low-cost personal information displays to high-end head-mounted displays are available, as are high-end immersive projection systems, such as "Reality Centre"-like panoramic screens and multi-wall CAVE implementations.
Contemporary glove-like systems are also available which, together with spatial trackers for head/hand/limb-mounting, permit gestural interaction with virtual worlds - even whole-body motion capture, if required. For non-glove users, spatially-tracked joysticks or desktop multi-function hand controllers are available. Force and tactile feedback devices, suitable for glove- or desk-mounting can be purchased, as can hand-held laser scanners and desk-top 3D digitisers. VP distributes and supports all Silicon Graphics computers, Intergraph NT machines (eg. TDZ 2000+Wildcat Graphics), HP systems, and Windows ?95/?98/2000/NT PCs, and is a value-added reseller for most popular VR modelling and run-time systems.
By virtue of its history stemming back to VR and telepresence projects undertaken during the UK?s National Advanced Robotics Research Initiative in 1989, Virtual Presence is the longest-running independent supplier of Virtual Reality hardware and software in Europe. Unlike other companies, where solutions are often tied into one particular organisation or one corporate solution, VP develops quality solutions based on a global product range. This means a solution can be specified, delivered, installed, maintained and upgraded all from VP as an experienced single-source supplier. VP?s product portfolio, comprising systems from many developers and suppliers across the world (and particularly the USA), can be reviewed in more detail on the company?s Web page at www.vrweb.com .
From a general marketing standpoint, although VP focuses its main corporate attention towards a small number of key markets (medical, defence, immersive projection technologies), the company continues to provide a service that is second-to-none in other important market areas, including engineering, aerospace, education, heritage, training, television, and so on. The evolution of the marketplace for VR continues unabated, with historical evidence pointing towards success for those companies capable of providing not just a hardware or software supply service, but a comprehensive solutions portfolio. Virtual Presence prides itself in its multidisciplinary approach to projects and boasts an award-winning staff complement unrivalled in terms of skills (software engineering, digital design, electro-mechanical design and installation, human factors, etc.) and experience (from international heritage projects to offshore and subsea research, from defence to surgical practice, from heavy engineering to microtechnologies). VP adopts an independent approach to VR development projects and selects modelling and run-time software, together with computing and data display/data input peripherals, according to the contract customer?s application or in-house standard. The company also has its own in-house suite of software tools, (Open GL) run-time packages and format convertors, the latter enabling model conversion between a wide variety of CAD and VR packages.
Products, projects and services
During a 2-year medical VR project conducted for the UK Government?s Department of Health between 1994 and 1996, the opportunity was taken to conduct a series of in-theatre task analyses in order to specify the possible future needs of trainee laparoscopic surgeons. One product of these further analyses (having decided that a full-blown anatomical simulator was neither affordable nor required) was MISTVR, a surgical psychomotor skills trainer, based on Immersion Corporation?s instrumented laparoscopic interface, connected to an industry standard PC. Movements from the laparoscopic interface tools are translated into 3D computer graphics which accurately track and represent the movements of those tools within a virtual "operating" volume. Within this volume, simple geometric shapes are generated and subsequently manipulated using the interface tools. The graphics have been intentionally kept simple in order that high frame rates may be maintained on relatively low cost equipment and to preserve the validity and reliability of the simulations when used in applied experimental research.
Today, MISTVR is Virtual Presence?s flagship medical product, featuring 5 general modes of operation: tutorial, training, examination, analysis and configuration. Close analysis of the video records generated during the earlier in-theatre observation sessions, together with iterative review sessions involving consultant surgeons and senior registrars, drove the specification of 6 basic task modules for MISTVR, including combinations of instrument approach, target acquisition, target manipulation and placement, transfer between instruments, target contact with optional diathermy, and controlled instrument withdrawal/replacement.
These tasks can be configured for varying degrees of difficulty and the configurations saved to a library for reuse. Specific task configurations can be assigned to individual students. In the examination mode the supervisor can select the tasks and repetitions and is able to order and save to a specific file for that trainee. Progress can be assessed with optional performance playback of the training session or examination. Data analyses permit quantification of (a) overall task performance (accuracy and errors, plus time to completion are logged during the tasks) and (b) right/left hand performances. The data are accessible in forms suitable for statistical analysis and significance testing.
Indeed, subsequent testing by clinicians and applied psychologists alike have yielded a battery of unexpected but impressive objective results, one outcome being that the MISTVR system now forms a mandatory component of basic and advanced medical courses at the European Surgical Institute near Hamburg, covering a wide range of techniques, from cholecystectomy to thoracic surgery. The results include such features as improvements in surgical movement efficiency (actual/ideal instrument path lengths, past-pointing errors and sub-movement corrections) and error reduction when MISTVR trainees are compared to control groups (eg. Taffinder et al. (1998a, b, c)). Also, improvements in multiple incision performance, reduction of the Fulcrum Effect (perceived instrument reversal) and increased use of both hands in endoscopic tasks have been reported (Gallagher (1998)).
Virtual Presence Limited
Dr. Bob Stone
Chester House, 79 Dane Road
Sale, Cheshire, M33 7BP
Web site: www.vrweb.com
London, Thursday 7th October 1999