Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab researchers are investigating how new digital technology can alter human beings and their interactions. Using advanced virtual reality technology researchers can transport student subjects into incredibly real environments, technology the researchers say could be used in a variety of human interactions from police lineups to America's obesity epidemic. Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab and assistant professor at Stanford Jeremy Bailenson has been researching a "virtual police lineup" that eliminates the possibility of a witness identifying the wrong person based on a characteristic that could have changed, such as weight or hair. By virtually making the lineup suspects the same weight, dressed in the same clothing, and sporting the same hair cuts, the witness is forced to identify the suspect based on their face rather than a changeable trait, resulting in a more accurate and positive identification. This technology can also be used to transport the witness back to the scene of the crime to view the suspect in the proper surroundings. "In virtual reality, you get unlimited information--you can see someone's face from any distance and any angle," Bailenson said. "When you give them unlimited information they can use, they're more likely to be accurate." The system works using a high tech helmet that captures the users movements using an accelerometer. Four cameras monitor the user's position in the room by tracing a light-emitting diode on the helmet. A computer records the movement information, while a second computer continually redraws the world and sends the information back to the helmet. Additional studies with the technology include monitoring a subject's physical activity levels after watching themselves exercise in the virtual world and tracking a subject's confidence levels after watching an attractive or unattractive simulation of themselves. Bailenson's research was funded by a 2002 National Science Foundation grant.
Article from the San Francisco Chronicle.