Wild Science: Virtual Reality Used to Teleport People Into Different Bodies [+video]

download (4)While Surgery bots like Da Vinci XI are already letting doctors perform surgery through machines, we could see humans teleoperating robots from greater distances in the future. Say, for example, a doctor in London operating on someone in Mumbai, or a human operating a robot on Mars. But what goes on in your brain when you’re under the illusion of embodying a robot?

In a study published today, researchers at Sweden’s Karolinksa Institute set out to answer that question by creating an out-of-body illusion where volunteers were “teleported” into a foreign body with the help of virtual reality headsets. Brain activity was then measured as they experienced this illusion.

“This experiment is a brain imaging experiment. We’re interested in the brain mechanisms that give rise to the feeling that you’re inside your body,” said co-author of the study and cognitive neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson over the phone.

In the experiment, 15 volunteers were asked to lie on the bed inside a MRI scanner. They wore VR headsets through which they saw a stranger’s body—also lying in the same room—being stroked by a paintbrush, while the same actions were performed on their own body. This technique was similarly used in an earlier “phantom limb” experiment, where a participant’s real hand was stroked at the same time as adjacent empty space (an “invisible hand”), leading them to feel that the invisible hand was actually part of their body.

According to lead author of the study, Arvid Guterstam, the brain merges the sensation of touch and visual input from the new perspective in a matter of seconds. This results in the illusion of “owning the stranger’s body and being located in that body’s position in the room, outside the participant’s physical body,” he said in a press statement. (Read more from “Scientists Used Virtual Reality to Teleport People Into Different Bodies” HERE)

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