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11 November 2019

shutterstock_1291130980 Virtual reality.jpgVirtual reality (VR) could become the next big thing to complement sports training as new research from the University of South Australia shows how it can significantly improve players’ real-world sports skills.

Using the fast-paced sport of table tennis as a case study, the study assessed the table tennis abilities of 57 everyday participants over a series of pre and post-training performance measures. It found that the real-life table tennis skills substantially improved for all participants who had engaged in the VR training.

The research is one of the first studies to investigate the transfer of sports skills from simulated to real environments using a head-mounted display.

Using the VR game, Eleven: Table Tennis with HTC Vive head-mounted displays, players competed against a virtual opponent, moving and responding to incoming stimuli, while receiving haptic, auditory and performance feedback in a 360-degree simulated environment. Results were compared with a control group that did not receiving any training throughout the intervention.

By nature, table tennis is a sport which requires players to respond in a continually changing, unpredictable and externally-paced environment. It demands flexibility in visual attention, quick decision-making and fast interceptive actions in response to an interactive opponent, making it an effective test sport for VR training.

Lead researchers, UniSA’s Stefan Michalski and Dr Ancret Szpak, say the findings demonstrate the viability and versatility of VR in contemporary society.

“Using VR as a training tool is becoming increasingly popular,” Dr Szpak says. “It’s regularly used by surgeons and pilots to hone their skills and techniques in a safe and controlled environment.”

“VR offers an immersive digital space where users can interact with objects and navigate environments as if they’re present in the real world.”

“For sports, VR opens fantastic opportunities that can otherwise be limited by costs (such as sporting equipment), logistics (such as the need for a training partner), or environmental factors (such adverse weather conditions, or training grounds like ski slopes).”

“It also lets players closely log and monitor their performance and development, as well as manipulate the virtual space in diverse ways.”

“Our research shows the potential that VR sports training can have in real-world settings. The real benefit is an ability to learn and practice tasks that may be logistically difficult, dangerous or impractical to do in the real world.”

UniSA researcher, Stefan Michalski says the research also provides a foundation for other VR skills training.

“Potentially anybody can benefit from skills training in VR,” Michalski says.

“In UniSA’s Cognitive Ageing and Impairments Neurosciences laboratory (CAIN) we are beginning to look at using VR to help people with an intellectual disability to build skills  for independent living.”

“Our hope is to use VR in this space to further the notion of skill transfer by demonstrating that people living with an intellectual disability can develop social, cognitive and vocational skills within the safe, comfortable and repeatable environment of VR.”

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Media: Annabel Mansfield: office +61 8 8302 0351 | mobile: +61 417 717 504
email: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au
Researchers: Stefan Michalski: office +61 8 8302 2611 email: Stefan.Michalski@unisa.edu.au
Dr Ancret Szpak: office +61 8 8302 4336 | email: Ancret.Szpak@unisa.edu.au

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