Walking with head-mounted virtual and augmented reality devices: Effects on position control and gait biomechanics
What was once a science fiction fantasy, virtual reality (VR) technology has evolved and come a long way. Together with augmented reality (AR) technology, these simulations of an alternative environment have been incorporated into rehabilitation treatments. The introduction of head-mounted displays has made VR/AR devices more intuitive and compact, and no longer limited to upper-limb rehabilitation. However, there is still limited evidence supporting the use of VR and AR technology during locomotion, especially regarding the safety and efficacy relating to walking biomechanics. Therefore, the objective of this study is to explore the limitations of such technology through gait analysis. In this study, thirteen participants walked on a treadmill in normal, virtual and augmented versions of the laboratory environment. A series of spatiotemporal parameters and lower-limb joint angles were compared between conditions. The center of pressure (CoP) ellipse area (95% confidence ellipse) was significantly different between conditions (p = 0.002). Pairwise comparisons indicated a significantly greater CoP ellipse area for both the AR (p = 0.002) and VR (p = 0.005) conditions when compared to the normal laboratory condition. Furthermore, there was a significant difference in stride length (p<0.001) and cadence (p<0.001) between conditions. No statistically significant difference was found in the hip, knee and ankle joint kinematics between the three conditions (p>0.082), except for maximum ankle plantarflexion (p = 0.001). These differences in CoP ellipse area indicate that users of head-mounted VR/AR devices had difficulty maintaining a stable position on the treadmill. Also, differences in the gait parameters suggest that users walked with an unusual gait pattern which could potentially affect the effectiveness of gait rehabilitation treatments. Based on these results, position guidance in the form of feedback and the use of specialized treadmills should be considered when using head-mounted VR/AR devices.