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Virtual reality system to support drug treatment shortlisted for THE Awards 2012 – University of Reading

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Virtual reality system to support drug treatment shortlisted for THE Awards 2012

Release Date 06 September 2012

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The University of Reading has been shortlisted for a major award for its work on a virtual reality system designed to help people in need of drug and alcohol treatment.

A team from Reading's School of Systems Engineering has been shortlisted for the Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology prize at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2012.

The team's collaboration with Swanswell, a national charity which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, has led to the creation of a virtual reality computer game which helps people avoid relapsing back into alcohol or drug use.

The game recreates the triggers' - objects, people and situations that can cause people to relapse - in a safe, virtual environment, supporting people to recognise and cope with triggers in real life.

Using 3D interactive technologies, users navigate around virtual scenes such as bars, rooms in houses and outdoor spaces, where they experience some of the sensations that can trigger a relapse into drug or alcohol misuse. The triggers recreated by the system include ambient sound from a pub or the noise of a jukebox, the sight of items such as bottles or needles, as well as more abstract features such as the time of day, unpaid bills or noisy neighbours.

Dr Faustina Hwang, senior lecturer in interactive systems at the University of Reading, said: "We are honoured and delighted to be shortlisted for the THE Awards. This project is a fantastic example of how by working closely with forward-looking organisations such as Swanswell, we can develop existing technology in new ways that have a real benefit to society.

"In the future, we want to further explore the development of coping skills through game play, and Swanswell is looking to include the game within various settings and is examining the potential for further development as a stand-alone product that can be used to complement traditional services."

Debbie Bannigan, Swanswell's Chief Executive, said: "We're delighted that the joint project has been shortlisted in the Times Higher Education Awards and that our innovative work is being recognised.

"The University of Reading's expertise and knowledge has been instrumental in the development of the virtual therapy application. The collaboration is proving to be very beneficial to the people Swanswell is helping every day.

"It's the first time serious games, virtual exposure therapy and e-therapy have all been brought together, so we're really excited about the future of this technology, as we work to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use."

Initial trials of the system have been promising, with service users feeling the technology supported discussion and enabled reflection on their own behaviour.

Drug and alcohol misuse costs the UK more than 33billion a year in health and criminal justice costs and lost productivity, and affects an estimated 1.9million people with dependency issues and 14.9m with hazardous drinking habits.

While most do not engage with treatment services, it is hoped that such innovative treatment methods - with computer technology that many people are increasingly comfortable using - can help bring more people into treatment.


For more information contact Pete Castle at the University of Reading press office on 0118 378 7391 or

Notes for editors

About the University of Reading

The University of Reading is one of the top 20 research intensive universities in the UK, and recognised overall as among the top 1% of universities internationally (THE World University Rankings 2011-12). The University consistently achieves high ratings for the quality of its teaching and in independent surveys of students. The School of Systems Engineering at the University of Reading is a world-renowned centre of excellence for teaching and research, bringing together expertise in information technology, computer science, cybernetics and electronic engineering.

About Swanswell

At Swanswell, we believe in a society free from problem alcohol and drug use; that everyone deserves the chance to change and be happy. We're a market leading charity with an exciting programme of innovative new service developments and a team of committed people who are working hard to achieve our ambitions. Swanswell has a number of offices across the country including Coventry and Warwickshire, Birmingham, Barnsley, Sandwell, Leicestershire and Rutland.Moreabout Swanswell >>>

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

This Partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP). KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. KTP is funded by the Technology Strategy Board along with the other government funding organisations.

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