An officer in the School of Nursing Simulation Laboratory at the University of the Free State (UFS) is aiming to cure or minimise cybersickness in Nursing students with a popular virtual reality gaming tool.
Bennie Botha, who is acting as head of Information, Communication and Simulation Technology in the School of Nursing Simulation Laboratory, has developed a virtual environment in which Nursing students use immersive VR to perform a simulation scenario. This is part of his master’s degree in Computer Science and Informatics under the supervision of Dr Lizette de Wet and co-supervisor Prof Yvonne Botma.
Botha obtained his master’s degree with distinction during the UFS virtual graduation in October.
Botha found that some people experience cybersickness (almost like motion sickness), which is a significant issue and difficult to address.
He will now try to address this with a VR gaming tool – the KAT Walk mini.
According to Botha, this technology has never been attempted for health-care education; it is mostly used in military and pilot training and is very popular as a gaming platform for hardcore VR gamers.
“To test and provide a possible solution, I am going to incorporate the KAT Walk mini (omni-directional treadmill – almost like the Ready Player One concept) into which students are strapped, and they can physically walk and turn around without the need for large open spaces.
“With this, I will try to determine whether it decreases or even eliminates cybersickness due to sensory mismatch while using immersive VR. I wanted to provide possible evidence of what causes cybersickness and want to enable VR as an educational tool, not just for gaming. I think immersive VR has a bright future if the kinks (of which the biggest is cybersickness) can be minimised,” says Botha.
He successfully applied for funding earlier this year and received R150 000.
“I must say I was surprised when I got the approval letter. I thought that due to the economic status it would not go through, but I was really glad when I got the approval as this is my dream and I love working with VR for health care. The grant has made my dream come true, especially considering that this sounds more like something from science fiction,” says Botha.
The project started in November 2017 when Botha first conceptualised the idea and took it to Dr De Wet. He then started it as a master’s project in 2018 and completed it at the end of 2019.
An equal opportunity for students
Botha says immersive VR gives students more time and a more accessible platform where they can practise their skills, as it is easy to use and easy to set up compared to other modalities of simulation. But the biggest task is to develop a usable virtual environment that gives students more time to practise and increase their theory and practical integration, which is key to providing highly skilled health-care professionals.
“By seeking and possibly implementing the new research, I aim to provide students with an equal opportunity to participate in immersive VR simulation, as it currently excludes people who are prone to high levels of cybersickness. This means that they cannot benefit from the same opportunities as other students do.”
“I believe it can help all Nursing students in SA and Africa, as it is much more cost-effective than high-technology manikins and is easier to set up and access, with much less manual input required to make it work (apart from the initial development.).”