The VERE project is concerned with embodiment of people in surrogate bodies so that they have the illusion that the surrogate body is their own body – and that they can move and control it as if it were their own. There are two types of embodiment considered - robotic embodiment, where the person is embodied in a remote physical robotic device, and which they control through a brain-computer interface. For example, a patient confined to a wheelchair or bed, and who is unable to physically move, may nevertheless re-enter the world actively and physically through such remote embodiment. The second type of embodiment is virtual where participants enter into a virtual reality with a virtual body representation. The basic and practical goal of this type of embodiment is to explore its use in the context of rehabilitation settings. Underlying these practical considerations is fundamental scientific research across a range of topics that are core to the progress of the practical goals: the neuroscience of body ownership, the construction of a machine to accomplish embodiment that reads signals from the participant and delivers virtual sensory data to the participant, the recognition of intentions through the monitoring of brain and physiological signals, the embodiment of these intentions into actions by a physical robot and the representation of participants by such a robot, the technology underlying virtual embodiment, and an overall software platform in which the different streams of work can be developed. There are two applications, one for immobile patients based on physical embodiment, and another for rehabilitation and training based on virtual embodiment. A critical part of the research is the consideration of the philosophical and ethical principles underlying embodiment, and consequently there is an entire stream of work that acts as the ethical and philosophical conscience of the project.
During the first year a number of goals of the project have been realised - studies involving the brain representation of embodiment at various levels, the design of an 'embodiment station', the first results on intention recognition using a variety of techniques based on both EEG and fMRI signals, the implementation of robots controlled through a brain-computer interface, and technical advances in the virtual reality representation of individuals. There has also been progress in research leading to the applications - including results showing that embodiment influences social attitudes, and progress on each of the fronts mentioned above.
A major and prestigious seminar was held in Centro Stefano Franscini, Monte Verità, Ascona, Switzerland, 26th September to 1st October, 2010, called 'Body Representation in Physical and Virtual Reality with Application to Rehabilitation' which was organised by the VERE coordinator, another PI of VERE together with another expert on rehabilitation, at which many of the VERE PIs presented their work. Another event was organised by a PI of VERE at the American Association of the Advancement of Science which was held in February 2011: "From Artificial Limbs to Virtual Reality: How the Brain Represents the Body". As well as this meeting being organised by one of the VERE PIs who also spoke at this meeting, the VERE Coordinator presented at this meeting.
The consortium has arranged a PhD Symposium, that is being organised and will be run by the students of the VERE partners, part of which will be open to the public.
The consortium has organised an Open Competition for groups or individuals to compete for a prize that would help them towards the exploitation of the VERE technology in a novel application.