Algonquin students designing phobia treatment tool

Researchers and students at Algonquin College are developing a virtual reality tool to help treat phobias, thanks to a research grant from Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII). Algonquin’s video game development program is working with the Cyberpsychology Lab at Université du Québec en Outaouais to develop a commercial version of a simulation tool used by psychologists to treat irrational fears such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders). The existing technology combines specialized eyewear and images projected onto six surfaces of a square room (walls, floor and ceiling) to create a lifelike, three-dimensional scene depicting various objects or situations that induce fear in phobic patients. The stimuli are introduced gradually, allowing the patient to overcome his or her fear in a progressive manner. The students’ design, which uses a graphical interface for PCs or laptops, is a portable version of the tool that doesn’t require specialized training to run, making it a viable option for office settings. “This is an excellent example of the synergy between colleges, universities and industry,” says John Omura, project manager of Applied Research and Innovation at Algonquin. “It further demonstrates that the skill sets we develop at the college level are very complementary to the objectives of university researchers and professionals.” The lightweight version of the simulation tool will initially be distributed to Canadian cyperpsychology researchers and practitioners participating in the Canada Cyberpsychology and Anxiety Virtual Lab at McMaster University. It is also expected to have commercial potential in markets outside of Canada. CONII, a three-year, $3.5 million innovation network funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, links 10 of the province’s top colleges, including Algonquin, Conestoga, Humber and Sheridan.

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