Is virtual reality (VR) the next best thing in developing real-world sports skills?
Using the fast-paced sport of table tennis as a case study, a University of South Australia study assessed the table tennis abilities of 57 everyday participants over a series of pre and post-training performance measures. It found that skills substantially improved for all participants who engaged in 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.
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With VR game, Eleven: Table Tennis and 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 receive 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.”