Open Medical Gesture: An Open-Source Experiment in Naturalistic Physical Interactions for Mixed and Virtual Reality Simulations
Authors: Thomas Brett Talbot, Chinmay Chinara
Abstract: Mixed (MR) and Virtual Reality (VR) simulations are hampered by requirements for hand controllers or attempts to perseverate in use of two-dimensional computer interface paradigms from the 1980s. From our efforts to produce more naturalistic interactions for combat medic training for the military, we have developed an open-source toolkit that enables direct hand controlled responsive interactions that is sensor independent and can function with depth sensing cameras, webcams or sensory gloves. From this research and review of current literature, we have discerned several best approaches for hand-based human computer interactions which provide intuitive, responsive, useful, and low frustration experiences for VR users. The center of an effective gesture system is a universal hand model that can map to inputs from several different kinds of sensors rather than depending on a specific commercial product. Parts of the hand are effectors in simulation space with a physics-based model. Therefore, translational and rotational forces from the hands will impact physical objects in VR which varies based on the mass of the virtual objects. We incorporate computer code w/ objects, calling them “Smart Objects”, which allows such objects to have movement properties and collision detection for expected manipulation. Examples of smart objects include scissors, a ball, a turning knob, a moving lever, or a human figure with moving limbs. Articulation points contain collision detectors and code to assist in expected hand actions. We include a library of more than 40 Smart Objects in the toolkit. Thus, is it possible to throw a ball, hit that ball with a bat, cut a bandage, turn on a ventilator or to lift and inspect a human arm.We mediate the interaction of the hands with virtual objects. Hands often violate the rules of a virtual world simply by passing through objects. One must interpret user intent. This can be achieved by introducing stickiness of the hands to objects. If the human’s hands overshoot an object, we place the hand onto that object’s surface unless the hand passes the object by a significant distance. We also make hands and fingers contact an object according to the object’s contours and do not allow fingers to sink into the interior of an object. Haptics, or a sense of physical resistance and tactile sensation from contacting physical objects is a supremely difficult technical challenge and is an expensive pursuit. Our approach ignores true haptics, but we have experimented with an alternative approach, called audio tactile synesthesia where we substitute the sensation of touch for that of sound. The idea is to associate parts of each hand with a tone of a specific frequency upon contacting objects. The attack rate of the sound envelope varies with the velocity of contact and hardness of the object being ‘touched’. Such sounds can feel softer or harder depending on the nature of ‘touch’ being experienced. This substitution technique can provide tactile feedback through indirect, yet still naturalistic means. The artificial intelligence (AI) technique to determine discrete hand gestures and motions within the physical space is a special form of AI called Long Short Term Memory (LSTM). LSTM allows much faster and flexible recognition than other machine learning approaches. LSTM is particularly effective with points in motion. Latency of recognition is very low. In addition to LSTM, we employ other synthetic vision & object recognition AI to the discrimination of real-world objects. This allows for methods to conduct virtual simulations. For example, it is possible to pick up a virtual syringe and inject a medication into a virtual patient through hand motions. We track the hand points to contact with the virtual syringe. We also detect when the hand is compressing the syringe plunger. We could also use virtual medications & instruments on human actors or manikins, not just on virtual objects. With object recognition AI, we can place a syringe on a tray in the physical world. The human user can pick up the syringe and use it on a virtual patient. Thus, we are able to blend physical and virtual simulation together seamlessly in a highly intuitive and naturalistic manner.The techniques and technologies explained here represent a baseline capability whereby interacting in mixed and virtual reality can now be much more natural and intuitive than it has ever been. We have now passed a threshold where we can do away with game controllers and magnetic trackers for VR. This advancement will contribute to greater adoption of VR solutions. To foster this, our team has committed to freely sharing these technologies for all purposes and at no cost as an open-source tool. We encourage the scientific, research, educational and medical communities to adopt these resources and determine their effectiveness and utilize these tools and practices to grow the body of useful VR applications.
Keywords: gesture interface, virtual reality, mixed reality, VR, MR, MxR, naturalistic user interface, user interfaces, human machine interfacee
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