Virtual Reality


Virtual Reality (VR) literally makes it possible to experience anything, anywhere, anytime. It is the most immersive type of reality technology and can convince the human brain that it is somewhere it is really not. Head mounted displays are used with headphones and hand controllers to provide a fully immersive experience. With the largest technology companies on planet earth (Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) currently investing billions of dollars into Virtual Reality the future of virtual reality is set to be a pillar of our everyday lives.

Virtual Reality is an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment. On a computer, virtual reality is primarily experienced through two of the five senses: sight and sound.

Virtual Reality can be divided into basic categories:

Construction
Development

The creation of environments for later use in training, education, and other.

Usage
Simulation

Utilizing the previously created environment for training, learning, and even gaming.

What is VR?

Virtual Reality means experiencing things through our computers that don’t really exist. From that simple definition, the idea doesn’t sound especially new. A realistic three-dimensional image or artificial environment that is created with a mixture of interactive hardware and software, and presented to the user in such a way that the any doubts are suspended and it is accepted as a real environment in which it is interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way.

Virtual Reality is best understood by first defining what it aims to achieve – total immersion.

Total immersion means that the sensory experience feels so real, that we forget it is a virtual-artificial environment and begin to interact with it as we would naturally in the real world. In a virtual reality environment, a completely synthetic world may or may not mimic the properties of a real-world environment. This means that the virtual reality environment may simulate an everyday setting (e.g. walking around the streets of London), or may exceed the bounds of physical reality by creating a world in which the physical laws governing gravity, time and material properties no longer hold (e.g. shooting space aliens on a foreign gravity-less planet).

A believable, interactive 3D computer-created world that you can explore so you feel you really are there, both mentally and physically.

Virtual Reality is
Believable

You really need to feel like you’re in your virtual world (on Mars, or wherever) and to keep believing that, or the illusion of virtual reality will disappear.

 

Virtual Reality is
Interactive

As you move around, the VR world needs to move with you. You can watch a 3D movie and be transported up to the Moon or down to the seabed—but it’s not interactive in any sense.

 

Virtual Reality is
Computer-generated

Why is that important? Because only powerful machines, with realistic 3D computer graphics, are fast enough to make believable, interactive, alternative worlds that change in real-time as we move around them.

 

Virtual Reality is
Explorable

A VR world needs to be big and detailed enough for you to explore. However realistic a painting is, it shows only one scene, from one perspective. A book can describe a vast and complex “virtual world,” but you can only really explore it in a linear way, exactly as the author describes it.

 

Virtual Reality is
Immersive

To be both believable and interactive, VR needs to engage both your body and your mind. You can play a flight simulator game on your home PC and be lost in a very realistic, interactive experience for hours (the landscape will constantly change as your plane flies through it), but it’s not like using a real flight simulator (where you sit in a mockup of a real cockpit and feel actual forces as it tips and tilts), and even less like flying a plane.

 

VR is quite different. It makes you think you are actually living inside a completely believable virtual world (one in which, to use the technical jargon, you are partly or fully immersed). It is two-way interactive: as you respond to what you see, what you see responds to you: if you turn your head around, what you see or hear in VR changes to match your new perspective.

Categories
Types of Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality has often been used as a marketing buzzword for compelling, interactive video games or even 3D movies and television programs, none of which really count as VR because they don’t immerse you either fully or partially in a virtual world. There are several categories but the main types of virtual reality differ in their levels of immersion. Below, we explore a few of the different categories of Virtual Reality.

Provide the most immersive implementation of virtual reality technology. In a fully-immersive simulation, hardware such as head-mounted displays and motion detecting devices are used to stimulate all of a user’s senses. These are able to provide very realistic user experiences by delivering a wide field of view, high resolutions, increased update rates (also called refresh rate), and high levels of contrast into a user’s head-mounted display (HMD).

Fully Immersive

Semi-Immersive

More immersive experience, in which the user is partly but not fully immersed in a virtual environment. Semi-immersive simulations closely resemble and utilize many of the same technologies found in flight simulation. Semi-immersive simulations are powered by high performance graphical computing systems, which are often then coupled with large screen projector systems or multiple television projection systems to properly stimulate the user’s visuals.

The least immersive implementation of virtual reality technology. In a non-immersive simulation, only a subset of the user’s senses are stimulated, allowing for peripheral awareness of the reality outside the virtual reality simulation. Users enter into these three-dimensional virtual environments through a portal or window by utilizing standard high resolution monitors powered by processing power typically found on conventional desktop workstations.

Non-Immersive

Usage Areas
Applications for VR


VR has always suffered from the perception that it’s little more than a glorified arcade game—literally “an escape from reality”. In that sense, “virtual reality” can be an unhelpful misnomer; “alternative reality,” “artificial reality,” or “computer simulation” might be better terms.

The key thing to remember about VR is that it really isn’t a fad or fantasy waiting in the wings to whistle people off to alternative worlds; it’s a hard-edged practical technology that’s been routinely used by scientists, doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, archaeologists, and the military for about the last 30 years.

What sorts of things can we do with it?

VR Application
Education

Difficult and dangerous jobs are hard to train for. How can you safely practice taking a trip to space, landing a jumbo jet, making a parachute jump, or carrying out brain surgery? All these things are obvious candidates for virtual reality applications. As we’ve seen already, crane simulators were among the earliest VR applications that were proven to help.

Food

VR Application
Scientific Visualization

Anything that happens at the atomic or molecular scale is effectively invisible unless you’re prepared to sit with your eyes glued to an electron microscope. But suppose you want to design new materials or drugs and you want to experiment with the molecular equivalent of LEGO. That’s another obvious application for virtual reality. Instead of wrestling with numbers, equations, or two-dimensional drawings of molecular structures, you can snap complex molecules together right before your eyes.

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VR Application
Medicine

Apart from its use in things like surgical training and drug design, virtual reality also makes possible telemedicine (monitoring, examining, or operating on patients remotely). A logical extension of this has a surgeon in one location hooked up to a virtual reality control panel and a robot in another location (maybe an entire continent away) wielding the knife. The best-known example of this is the DaVinci surgical robot, released in 2009, of which several thousand have now been installed in hospitals worldwide.

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VR Application
Design & Architecture

Architects used to build models out of card and paper; now they’re much more likely to build virtual reality computer models you can walk through and explore. By the same token, it’s generally much cheaper to design cars, airplanes, and other complex, expensive vehicles on a computer screen than to model them in wood, plastic, or other real-world materials. This is an area where virtual reality overlaps with computer modeling: instead of simply making an immersive 3D visual model for people to inspect and explore, you’re creating a mathematical model that can be tested for its aerodynamic, safety, or other qualities.

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