Virtual Reality
Top 5 Virtual Reality Posts from the past week.

1. Virtual Reality Stunts Rats’ Sense of Space

If you were a rat living in a completely virtual world like in the movie The Matrix, could you tell? Maybe not, but scientists studying your brain might be able to. Today, researchers report that certain cells in rat brains work differently when the animals are in virtual reality than when they are in the real world.

The neurons in question are known as place cells, which fire in response to specific physical locations in the outside world and reside in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for spatial navigation and memory. As you walk out of your house every day, the same place cell fires each time you reach the shrub that’s two steps away from your door. It fires again when you reach the same place on your way back home, even though you are traveling in the opposite direction. Scientists have long suspected that these place cells help the brain generate a map of the world around us. But how do the place cells know when to fire in the first place?

Read on here.

2. How our brains navigate the world without us noticing

To remain oriented in a complex world, our brains constantly make and revise maps of our surroundings. We do most of this mental mapping unconsciously, which makes it hard to study how our brains keep a firm grasp on space and time.

“Every creature, no matter how simple or complex, must make maps of space,” said Mayank Mehta, a neuroscientist at UCLA. “Our goal is to understand what are the cues they are using and how they are putting them together.”

To meet that goal, Mehta and his colleagues watched the brains of rats exploring a virtual reality environment and found that mental mapping relies on a wider variety of sensory input than previously thought.

That’s right—they put rats in virtual reality.

Read on here.

3. Study Finds How the Brain Remembers Movements

Being able to remember how to get somewhere and return back home is a vital and innate human skill. Since humans do not have to actively remember the paths and routes they take everyday, researchers have looked into how the brain creates this almost automatic memory of one’s movements. They have discovered how the brain manages to keep track of these movements and inform humans where they are. This skill, when lost due to neurodegenerative diseases that conflict with memory processes, can be dangerous and difficult. This new study looked into how the brain develops movement memory and found that the process is not limited to just visual cues.

Read on here.

4. Virtual reality, goggles and all, attempts return

The virtual reality headset, the gizmo that was supposed to seamlessly transport wearers to three-dimensional virtual worlds, has made a remarkable return at this year’s Game Developers Conference, an annual gathering of video game makers in San Francisco.

After drumming up hype over the past year and banking $2.4 million from crowdfunding, the Irvine, Calif.-based company Oculus VR captured the conference’s attention this week with the Oculus Rift, its VR headset that’s more like a pair of ski goggles than those bulky gaming helmets of the 1990s that usually left users with headaches.

“Developers who start working on VR games now are going to be able to do cool things,” said Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. “This is the first time when the technology, software, community and rendering power is all really there.”

Read on here.

5. Here’s the Real Reason Why Virtual Reality Doesn’t Work Yet

 It’s another blow for immersive virtual reality. University of California researchers have shown that even people with perfect eyesight navigate the world by relying on a lot more than what they see. Here’s why VR won’t really work until we go beyond visual cues and fancy treadmills.

Inside our brain’s hippocampus we have what are called place cells. These specialized cells help us build a “cognitive map” of our surroundings — mental representations which allow us to orientate ourselves in our spatial environment.

These neurons have been observed to fire like crazy whenever a rat has to go about the task of figuring out where it is in the world. And if the rat in an entirely new location altogether, it has to create a new cognitive map from scratch.

But once this map has been created, rats can quickly figure out where they are should they return to that location.

Read on here.

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