Meet the Top Scientist seminar offered a peek to the future of VR and robotics

Meet the Top Scientist seminar was held on Tellus Stage on the 7th of May. There were three scientists from different fields who all work currently on robotics and VR, an interview with Steven LaValle and a panel discussion on the future. 

Juho Röning opened the event by going through the history and future of robotics in Europe. According to him, robotics is going through a new renaissance now that the European commission is again on the path of acknowledging the value of robotics. For a while, there was a common understanding that robotics is done, and everything is now ready, since the industrial robots are quite advanced. But now robotics is taking on new challenges, that are risen for example when farmers age. 

Professor of Medicine, Johanna Uusimaa, shared her findings on how VR could be used in the rehabilitation of children with neurological disorders. There are not many solutions to this yet, and the evidence is sparse, but it seems that training in VR environments is beneficial for the rehabilitation on children. 

The most efficient way to treat for example cerebral palsy seems to be a combination of therapy in the real world and in VR environment. Treatment in the VR environment is proven to help children with their orientation and controlling their movements. It also seems that it helps in pain control and developing social skills. This topic is not much studied and there are not many applications, so it is still very fertile ground for research. Uusimaa encouraged everyone to come up with new solutions for healthcare, since they are really needed.

Laura Kohonen-Aho opened up the analysis of conversation that takes place in virtual surroundings. She is particularily interested in gestures and how strong connection they have to environment and what kind of difficulties this brings to using gestures in virtual and real environment at the same time. Often, it’s also problematic to use the gestures we know from real world in virtual environment. This kind of research may open new doors for better ways of communicating in virtual surroundings and make for example video meetings and distant work more efficient. 

In the interview with Steven LaValle we got to get to know the man behind Oculus Rift. He is originally from the U.S. but fell in love with Oulu during the development of Oculus Rift. while living in a “secret laboratory”, he built in a student apartment. LaValle is driven by his interest in understanding new things and then explaining them to other people. He told that he ended up where he now is just by holding on to his child-like curiosity and by that always expanding his area of expertise. 

In the beginning of the interview, Steven told in an amusing way how people in Oulu are often puzzled why would anyone want to live in here. Soon after this the discussion turned to research and to what kind of research is good research. LaValle stated, that a good outcome is useful or beautiful. it can, of course, be both but that is rare. As one of his most beautiful results, he considers this algorithm, that creates fractals. It is very simple and results in very beautiful pictures.  Beautiful solutions are often simple, and they work well. This is why the result is also often very useful even if the usefulness is not recognized at the moment. Artists often come to this kind of results since they are not bound by industrial or economic restrictions. Then on the other hand, he stated that a study being complicated on purpose just to show how smart a person must be in order to be able to conduct this research, is not necessarily a good study. So, complicatedness must not be used as a judging criterion when evaluating research. 

The problem LaValle likes the most is so called piano movers’ problem, which is a basic question in motion planning. So, how to move a piano as efficiently as possible without hitting the walls. This is a good problem because it is well defined, crisp, and you know when it is solved. When the object moves from A to B without hitting the walls. 

This was the last Meet the Top Scientist seminar of this semester. We will continue next semester with new topics and new researchers. If you have any questions, ideas or you would like to organize something like this in collaboration with us, contact simo.kekalainen@oulu.fi

Last updated: 7.5.2019