Using Mobile VR to Assess Claustrophobia During an MRI

Using Mobile VR to Assess Claustrophobia During an MRI

new methods for exposure therapy

Stephanie O’Malley

Dr. Richard Brown and his colleague Dr. Jadranka Stojanovska had an idea for how VR could be used in a clinical setting. Having realized a problem with patients undergoing MRI scans experiencing claustrophobia, they wanted to use VR simulations to introduce potential patients to what being inside an MRI machine might feel like.

Duderstadt Center programmer Sean Petty and director Dan Fessahazion alongside Dr. Richard Brown

Claustrophobia in this situation is a surprisingly common problem. While there are 360 videos that convey what an MRI might look like, these fail to address the major factor contributing to claustrophobia: The perceived confined space within the bore. 360 videos tend to make the environment skewed, seeming further away than it would be in reality and thereby failing to induce the same feelings of claustrophobia that the MRI bore would produce in reality. With funding from the Patient Education Award Committee, Dr. Brown approached the Duderstadt Center to see if a better solution could be produced.

VR MRI: Character customization
A patient enters feet-first into the bore of the MRI machine.

In order to simulate the effects of an MRI accurately, a CGI MRI machine was constructed and ported to the Unity game engine. A customize-able avatar representing the viewer’s body was also added to give viewers a sense of self. When a VR headset is worn, the viewer’s perspective allows them to see their avatar body and the real proportions of the MRI machine as they are slowly transported into the bore. Verbal instructions mimic what would be said throughout the course of a real MRI, with the intimidating boom of the machine occurring as the simulated scan proceeds.

Two modes are provided within the app: Feet first or head first, to accommodate the most common scanning procedures that have been shown to induce claustrophobia.  

In order to make this accessible to patients, the MRI app was developed with mobile VR in mind, allowing anyone (patients or clinicians) with a VR-capable phone to download the app and use it with a budget friendly headset like Google Daydream or Cardboard.

Dr. Brown’s VR simulator was recently featured as the cover story in the September edition of Tomography magazine.

S.C.I Hard Available in App Store

S.C.I Hard Available in App Store

Those with spinal cord injuries (SCI) encounter a drastically different world when they are released from the hospital. With varying degrees of disability, mobility and function, the world around them becomes a collection of physical and mental challenges which is a complete departure from their previous lifestyles. Whether they are in crutches or manual/automatic wheelchairs, they need to learn mobility, scheduling, and social tasks once again.

Players in S.C.I Hard must navigate a chaotic club scene to wrangle escaped tarsier monkeys

S.C.I Hard is a mobile game developed by the Duderstadt Center and designed by Dr. Michelle Meade for the Center for Technology & Independence (TIKTOC RERC) with funding from a NIDRR Field Initiated Development Grant.

Its purpose is to assist persons with spinal cord injury and develop and apply the necessary skills to keep their bodies healthy while managing the many aspects of SCI care, serving as a fun and engaging manual for individuals with spinal cord injuries learning independence. Tasks such as scheduling, mobility, and social interaction are all integrated subtly into the game. Players engage in goofy quests, from befriending roid-raging girlscouts in the park to collecting tarsier monkeys running rampant at a night club. The goal of S.C.I Hard was to be different from most medically oriented games, so players don’t feel like they’re being lectured or bombarded with  boring medical jargon, and instead learn the important concepts of their condition in a more light-hearted and engaging way.

Players shop for a handicap accessible vehicle to take their road test as they learn independence

With more than 30 different scenarios and mini-games, a full cast of odd characters to talk with, and dozens of collectible items and weapons only you can save the town from impending doom. SCI-Hard puts you, the player, in the chair of someone with a Spinal Cord Injury. Introducing you to new challenges and obstacles all while trying to save the world from legions of mutated animals. Join the fight and kick a** while sitting down!

S.C.I Hard is now available for free on Apple and Android devices through the app store, but will require participation in the subsequent study or feedback group to play:

Apple Devices:

Android Devices:

To learn more about the subsequent study or to participate in the study involving S.C.I Hard, visit:

A Configurable iOS Controller for a Virtual Reality Environment

A Configurable iOS Controller for a Virtual Reality Environment

James examining a volumetric brain in the MIDEN with an iPod controller

Traditionally, users navigate through 3D virtual environments via game controllers; however, game controllers are littered with ambiguously labeled buttons.  And while excellent for gaming, this setup makes navigating through 3D space unnecessarily complicated for the average user.  James Cheng, a sophomore in Computer Science in Engineering, has been working to resolve this headache by using touch screens such as those found in mobile devices instead game controllers.  Using the Jugular Engine in development at the Duderstadt Center, he has been developing a scalable UI system that can be used for a wide range of immersive simulations. Want to cut through a volumetric brain?  Select the “slice button” and start dragging.  What to fly through an environment instead of walking?  Switch to “Fly” mode and take off.  The system aims to be highly configurable since every experience is different.

Initial development is being done for the iOS platform due to it’s consistent hardware and options for scalable user interfaces.  James aims to make immersive experiences more intuitive and give the developer more options for communicating with the user.  You can now say “good-bye!” to memorizing what buttons “X” and “Y” do for each simulation, and instead utilize clearly defined and simulation-specific buttons.

Duderstadt Center takes 1st and 2nd Place in Mobile Apps Challenge

Duderstadt Center takes 1st and 2nd Place in Mobile Apps Challenge

In December of 2012, The University of Michigan held a mobile app competition to showcase new apps developed within the university and encourage the developer community to create innovative mobile designs. U-M students, faculty, and staff submitted a variety of apps from many different disciplines and genres. The event was sponsored and judged by individuals from Computer Science and Engineering, Google, Information and Technology Services, and Technology Transfer.

1st Place – PainTrek
Ever have a headache or facial pain that seemingly comes and goes without warning? Ever been diagnosed with migraines, TMD or facial neuralgias but feel that the medication or your ability to explain your pain is limited? PainTrek is a novel app that was developed to make it easier to track, analyze, and talk about pain.

2nd Place – PictureIt: The Epistles of St. Paul
The app will give you the feel of what it was like reading an ancient Greek book on papyrus, where the text is written without word division, punctuation, headings, or chapter and verse numbers. To aid the reader without knowledge of ancient Greek the translation mode will give a literal translation of the Greek text preserved on these pages (with addition of chapter and verse numbers), with explanatory notes showing where this text is different from the Standard text.

UROP Summer Symposium 2012 (Kinect, Virtual Reality, and iOS)

UROP Summer Symposium 2012 (Kinect, Virtual Reality, and iOS)

Rachael Miller and Rob Soltesz presented their summer work on Kinect development, natural user interfaces, and capturing emotive qualities of users at the 2012 UROP Symposium for MSTEM. Rachael won a Blue Ribbon at the event for her poster and they are both the first (that I know of) who have successfully used multiple Kinects in an immersive virtual reality space for virtual physical presence.

Rachael focused on creating a natural user interface for immersive 3D environments by combining multiple connects for a more robust skeleton.  This stable and predictable skeleton allowed her to then wrap virtual (invisible) objects around the user’s limbs and torso effectively allowing people to interact with virtual objects without markers or special tracking devices. Beyond simple interaction with virtual objects she then developed several gestures to be used for navigation in virtual reality.

Rob worked with Rachael on aspects of her project but also looked into using the Kinect’s multiple microphones and internal voice recognition capabilities to extract emotive qualities from the user inside a virtual reality space.

Andrew Janke also presented at a second UROP symposium on his work with iOS connectivity to a variety of applications. Getting data off of an iOS device is not always trivial. Formatting that data into a PDF and then sending it via email to a specific individual can be a challenge. Andrew developed a process that allows arbitrary iOS applications to send data, using simple sockets, which can then be formatted and then sent via email. This functionality was required by a few of our applications in development and proved to be extremely useful.

All students did a great job over the summer and we’re excited to be a part of the UROP program at the University of Michigan.