Simulator to shake off quake trauma

FRANCESCA LEE
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2012
Daniel Tobin

Students at the University of Canterbury are developing an earthquake simulator to help people who have been traumatised by earthquakes.

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Stressed Cantabrians will be able to relive their earthquake experiences in a virtual Christchurch to help them overcome their ordeals.

Canterbury University Human Interface Technology laboratory researcher Andreas Duenser is building a quake simulator to treat people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the quakes.

"Exposure therapy is really popular in the United States for treating soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD," he said.

"The therapy recreates scenes in a therapeutic context to treat it. Research shows it can be a helpful tool for therapists.

"Quite a lot of people in Christchurch are suffering from PTSD.

"We are making a virtual reality-based environment as a tool for treatment and building up resilience," Duenser said.

"We are working with three psychologists from the university's psychology department on how to implement it."

Canterbury University master's student Rory Clifford, who is also working on the simulator, is using commercial game technology to recreate a three-dimensional central Christchurch.

"It's really hard to get it really real with the windows falling down because we're building the environment from photographs.

"You probably have to build three-dimensional mini-models," Clifford said.

The simulator is still in its planning and design stages.

It consists of a vibration platform made with plywood and home cinema bass-shakers, which produce the vibrations.

"We want to use off-the-shelf hardware with low cost as much as possible," Duenser said.

He said the vibration platform would be combined with the sound of rumbling and visuals of crumbling bricks and dust to create a believable scenario and "that uncomfortable feeling in your gut".

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