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Virtual Reality

The palace in your mind

Virtual reality is already an established tool in supporting production processes. But virtual reality can also be a big help in language learning, as researchers at the University of Westminster have demonstrated through the development of a software program that helps users learn foreign languages through the use of "mind palaces".

23 Jan. 2017
Gedächtnispalast VR
Virtual Reality helps using the "mind palaces" (Photo: iStock)

In his mind's eye, Sherlock Holmes revisits a large manor. In each room he visualizes unusual objects, which at first glance all seem to be in the wrong places. The detective races ever faster, mentally, through the different rooms in search of the missing pieces of the puzzle. This intriguing series of mental flashbacks in the BBC series "Sherlock" is based on a centuries-old mind-training technique – the so-called "mind palace".

In order to better retain things, people add experiences, emotions or unusual objects to remembered incidents in the context of rooms or furnishings in an imaginary building. Thanks to this "memory crutch", the brain can remember things much better compared to a situation with no supporting context . This is a method which was already the subject of writings in the 16th century and which remains valid till this day.

Giving your imagination a boost

But you need lots of practice and a generous amount of imagination to create your own mind palace. This process can be greatly facilitated if you harness virtual reality to the project. At the University of Westminster in Great Britain, researchers have developed a software program which allows novices to master the "mind palace" technique. Called "Macunx VR", the program allows users to use predefined models to weave in their own associative objects, images and stories, without needing to completely "think up" the relevant buildings in the first place.

"This way it is possible for people to learn much more quickly and effectively compared with simple repetition," explains Dr. Aaron Ralby , Managing Director of the startup company Linguisticator, which is using this software for commercial purposes. "Languages or even medical terms, drug side effects and other complex information can be learned quickly and stored long-term," he remarks.

Learning faster by association

The advantages of virtual reality are obvious: an infinite amount of space and virtually unlimited opportunities to create stories that match the user’s own imagined images. This so-called guided mode, i.e. the opportunity to design your own mind palace with outside assistance, promises a quick introduction and fast success.

For companies and businesses, this kind of virtual learning promises a revolutionary new opportunity to get employees to quickly grasp complex issues and situations. At the same time, the method promotes their capacity to comprehend difficult processes in a holistic manner, creating new associations which stimulate their own creative thought patterns.

Virtual travel, actual booking

Touring virtual buildings and inspecting all of the rooms is also of great interest to a completely different kind of industry: the company, for example, which brings scenes from around the globe to your own living room. Just wearing virtual reality goggles, the user can for instance visit the French Chauvez cave and view its spectacular wall paintings. Anyone who then wants to actually make the trip there can take a virtual tour of potential hotels before finalizing their booking.

And to make sure that passengers can save even more, Lufthansa for instance offers virtual first-class flights in an Airbus A380. Wearing cardboard glasses with an attached smartphone, economy passengers can have a first-class travel experience – virtually speaking.

For a first-hand look at the exciting challenges and opportunities offered by virtual reality, visit CeBIT and take in the the Virtual & Augmented Reality display sector as well as the SCALE11 startups sector in Hall 11.

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