Practical implementation of IVET requires resources, planning, and imagination. The first and most obvious issue is the cost of obtaining these resources. The cost of IVET systems has continued to decrease to being within the reach of many institutions. IVET typically runs on off-the-shelf PCs, however, the other hardware varies substantially in terms of type and quality, each requiring a different level of financial outlay. One company, for example, advertises high quality entry-level head mounted display-based systems with position tracking at approximately $20,000 USD (Worldviz, 2007
). While a research laboratory could potentially function with a single setup, any protocols requiring multi-user interaction will require at least two systems.
In terms of software, there are a number of commercially available VEs for more common applications (e.g., psychotherapy), however, more novel applications typically require custom programming work. Cost and time required for VE programming will depend upon the scope of the project and the skill and experience level of the programmer. Software packages designed for creating VEs are continually becoming more functional and user friendly and one would expect that with the currently high rate of computing power expansion and software sophistication these costs as well will continue to diminish.
Once an IVET facility is up and running, it requires a good imagination and pilot testing to create engaging simulations that tell the desired story, provide for the desired interaction, and properly measure the theoretical variables of interest. The state of computer technology and the extensive programming necessary for realistic interaction with virtual humans can require voice recognition and complex artificial intelligence schemes and can limit the extent to which a naturalistic verbal give-and-take can occur. However, through careful planning, it is possible to appropriately constrain a scenario so that a social exchange can be psychologically natural. Furthermore, once an experimental scenario is mapped out and created it can be used for as many iterations as desired, replicated in any facility with the required equipment, and altered for use in future related or unrelated work. These environments can test ideas that move from the lab into the real world and vice versa, thus creating an interface for tested concepts moving back and forth from the empirical to the applied.
IVET also brings with it some technology-related issues such as cybersickness, a sensation similar to motion sickness that can, in some cases, arise from equipment use. Some published studies report high incidence rates of cybersickness (e.g., Cobb, Nichols, Ramsey, & Wilson, 1999
), however, many other studies (e.g., Bailenson & Yee, 2006
; Schneider, Prince-Paul, Allen, Silverman, & Talaba, 2004
) suggest much lower symptom rates. A more positive byproduct of the technology, however, is the enthusiasm that study participants typically hold IVET, a technology commonly considered to be novel and quite enjoyable to use. In our own anecdotal experience, we find this reaction to IVET to be a boon for recruitment and participant engagement.
In summary, the benefits conferred by IVET have a number of important potential advantages for advancing a communication research agenda related to applications of genomics for public health in the areas of education, simulation decision-making, behavior change intervention, clinical practice, and training. Research in each of these domains could contribute substantially toward improving the tools and techniques providers have to communicate ideas and the ability of target audiences to respond to and understand them.