Swanswell’s virtual reality project takes to the world stage

20 September 2012

Swanswell’s taken to the world stage this month to showcase how computer game-based technology could help people recover from substance misuse.

The national charity, which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, presented to delegates at the 9th International Conference on Disability, Virtual Reality and Associated Technologies (ICDVRAT) in Laval, France.

Swanswell showcased a joint project with the University of Reading which uses virtual reality software to encourage behaviour change in people affected by alcohol misuse.

The technology, developed by Swanswell and the University of Reading through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), gives clients access to a number of computer-generated scenes using a virtual reality headset.

Each scene allows the game’s user to make decisions, which lead to more events as the scene unfolds, and allows the user to move between different scenes including a domestic scene with alcohol and drug-related cues, and a bar scene.

It aims to help them identify triggers to their alcohol or drug use and develop coping skills.

On Wednesday 12 September, team members from Swanswell and the University of Reading presented a paper called ‘Using virtual environments to teach coping skills in addiction treatment’ at the ICDVRAT conference.

Conference visitors heard about the background and development of the project, through user-led design, as well as the results of some of the initial testing of the application.

Liam North, Swanswell’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate and project lead, performed a full podium presentation at the conference - one of only 50 projects accepted out of a submission of 120.

He said: ‘We were delighted to be sharing what we know with many other academics and specialists involved in changing people’s lives for the better.

‘Swanswell believes that virtual therapies such as this can play a big part in the treatment and recovery of many more of those affected by substance misuse in the future, so we’re really excited about using more of this technology moving forward.’

Professor Paul Sharkey has led development of the technology at the University of Reading’s School of Systems Engineering.

He said: ‘The level of interest shown in this technology, as indicated by the reaction to Liam’s presentation, is testament to the success of the collaboration between the University of Reading and Swanswell on this project so far.

‘We’re thrilled that engineering solutions we have helped to develop at Reading, using easily-accessible technology, are being applied in such an innovative way by Swanswell and already making a difference to people’s lives.’

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