How does it workThe amygdala, which plays a key role in shaping emotions, makes the brain react as if the VR image is real. In this case, the frontal lobes “say” to the person: “I am safe, this is an invention, not a threat.”

A real but slightly weakened emotional response makes VR technology a part of exposure therapy for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders. This allows them to control their fears. For example, a patient who is afraid of heights in virtual reality stands on a glass floor, while a war veteran revisits the battlefield to work through the trauma – without real risk.

VR to help

Pacific Standart journalist Jack Denton asked the question : if VR helps to form certain sensations, can this technology be used to rehabilitate drug addicts, replacing hallucinogens with it? According to neuropsychopharmacologist Manoj Doss, who studies the effects of these substances on the brain, the frontal lobe likely has some control over the response of the amygdala. This is most likely why the reactions elicited by virtual experiences are usually less intense than real emotions. In this regard, Skip Rizzo, director of VR in medicine at the Institute for Creative Technology at the University of Southern California, believes that VR cannot replace hallucinogens. Doss explains why the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, also suppresses emotional responses.

The visual and auditory effects that accompany a person after ingestion of such substances can be recreated. However, virtual reality technology today is not sophisticated enough to mimic other effects, such as tactile ones, says Jim Blasovich, emeritus professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and former head of the Virtual Reality and Behavior Research Center. The journalist came to the conclusion that in the future the technology will be able to simulate various effects, and VR will be used to treat not only phobias and PTSD, but also drug addiction.

How is it already used

In China, doctors have been using this technology to help drug addicts for several years. Thousands of patients in rehabilitation centers, in addition to traditional therapy, are treated using virtual reality.

Heroin cave

The US also drew attention to the technology of virtual reality, reports Reuters… Scientists from the University of Houston developed a program several years ago to help drug addicts. They have created the so-called “heroin cave”: with the help of infrared cameras, 3D-avatars are projected in the room. Wearing a VR headset, patients will be able to walk through a simulated party where people use drugs. Scientists managed to achieve high detail of what is happening, right up to scattered pizza boxes and money thrown on the table next to the lighter. All of this is designed to provoke a strong craving in the addict and check how ready he is to face it in a normal environment, after the completion of treatment. Scientists note that this method is more effective than talking in an office with a specialist.

In Shanghai, among thousands of people who participated in a similar treatment program, 70% said their desire to use drugs had weakened. There, in addition to virtual reality glasses, patients were given a tracking system for their pulse, temperature and other indicators. First, they were shown a scene in a bar and at a party that provoked cravings, and as soon as the sensors recorded the body’s response to a stimulus, the system automatically showed sharply negative consequences of use – family breakdown, serious illness, suicide.

“If you see worms every time you eat an apple, then you will end up not wanting apples,” Zhang Zhaolin, an employee of the Shanghai Qingdong Rehabilitation Center, explained the meaning of this technology.

What VR/AR projects is Sibur conducting? Which is the most significant in terms of business customers, resources invested, and expected results?

We work in both of those fields. As for AR, we began to use it to improve the quality of plant maintenance and repair.

Plant employees use AR-glasses with a built-in video camera and a display to show different information, including tips from remote experts, which they transmit from their computers through a unified communications platform.

These technologies are being actively developed in our company, and in the future we are considering the possibility of using AR equipment as an interface for “tips” with reference to specific equipment using various tags, as well as the introduction of functionality supporting scripts, including for remote training of employees when conducting repairs.

We use VR in interactive learning materials. For example, a simulator for servicing compressors is already being implemented as a pilot project in Tomsk. Practicing the necessary actions via a virtual simulator allows an employee to reduce the decision-making time when working at the facility itself.

The second scenario of using VR is associated with practicing actions when handling hazardous reagents as well as when studying the fundamentals of industrial safety and working under dangerous conditions — e.g. in industries with gas hazards, at heights, etc. We have identified a set of the most appropriate scenarios for the use of VR, and in 2019 we plan to begin developing a simulator for handling hazardous reagents.

Are you seeking to increase the Company’s own VR/AR expertise or more often involve third-party developers?

We need internal experts: for example, to “translate” from the language of developers into the language of business and the language of petrochemistry. Therefore, we are creating a division of technical specialists.

Who is working on the concept? Who is the stakeholder / actual customer? How are decisions made about the scope of funding (pilots / full-scale implementation)?

The initiative comes from both the process divisions and from the functional customers (plants). If the solution overlaps with VR technologies, we begin to analyze the technical and economic aspects, including an assessment of the economic effect of the implementation. This calculation allows us to decide on the appropriateness of investment in the development and implementation. All digital tools at Sibur pass through such a filter. All effects must be quantified.

Photo by Lux Interaction on Unsplash

Sascha Barby

Sascha Barby

Sascha's passion for food and the foodservice industry has driven him since he first worked in the kitchen. Projects abroad and the diversity of the industry have only increased his enthusiasm. Started as a Chef in various restaurants in Germany and Canada, completing his skills with an MBA, he now works at Rational AG in marketing.  Sascha lives with his wife and children in Bavaria near Munich.

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