Through a project funded with three million euros by the Ministry of Culture and Science of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), scientists in Bonn and Dortmund aim to establish experimental research in virtual environments as a new interdisciplinary profile. The joint project “InVirtuo 4.0” brings together experts from computer science, media science, neuroscience, behavioral research and psychology.
One goal, among others, is to leverage the latest technologies in the field of virtual reality (VR) as a tool for fundamental research in cognitive neuroscience, clinical psychology and clinical neurology. In addition to the University and the University Hospital Bonn, the TU Dortmund and DZNE are involved in the project network.
Experiments in virtual worlds, i.e. “in virtuo”, have been used for years in various disciplines such as behavioral and neuroscience. The project's spokesperson, Prof. Reinhard Klein from the Institute of Computer Science at the University of Bonn, explains: “Such applications, however, require both immense technological knowledge and, at the same time, comprehensive technical equipment. Our new research project, InVirtuo 4.0, aims to bridge the gap between the latest technological developments and their application in basic research that is more remote from technology.”
One focus of the project’s activities is therefore to train young researchers across disciplines so that they become familiar with both the technological and experimental sides and can translate the technology into applications. The project network will be able to draw on a hardware system that is unique in the world: Among other things, this can be employed to generate digital twins, i.e. virtual representations of physical objects or persons, in unprecedented quality.
Movement disorders, VR and AI
On the part of DZNE, the research groups of Dr. Dr. Ahmad Aziz and Dr. Martin Reuter are involved in the project consortium. “Within the framework of InVirtuo 4.0, our focus is on neurodegenerative diseases that are associated with movement disorders. For example, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease,” Aziz says. “Specifically, we will study the relationship between pathological changes in the brain and disorders in motor function. To do this, we will employ virtual reality, deep learning, that is, artificial intelligence, and data from brain scans.”