Virtual reality can be defined as the use of computer technology to create an experience in a simulated environment. This experience can very well be similar or completely different in looks, feel, and features from the real world. A person making use of virtual reality equipment will be able to look around the virtual world, move around in it, and interact with its virtual features and items.
The current virtual reality systems make use of virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments in order to be able to generate images, sounds, and other sensations that are realistic and will help to simulate a person’s physical presence in the virtual environment.
The most immediately recognizable component of virtual reality is the display that is head-mounted. This is because human beings are first and foremost visual creatures. This immersive display technology is one of the biggest differences between virtual reality systems and the traditional ones.
Unlike the traditional systems which allow users to view experiences on a screen in front of them, virtual reality systems have immersive displays that place the user inside the experience. With virtual reality systems, users are immersed in a virtual environment and are able to interact with the features of the environment.
Virtual Reality Technology
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Virtual reality headset displays use gyroscopes and motion sensors to track head, body and even hand positions. They also comprise of small screens made for HD stereoscopic displays and small, fast computer processors.
To be able to convey a spatial impression, two images are generated and they are displayed to the user from different perspectives (i.e. stereo projection), one image for each eye. There are also different technologies available to convey the respective image with the corresponding eye.
To interact with the virtual world, special input devices have been created. Some of these input devices are wired gloves, touch motion controllers, the 3D mouse, and optical tracking sensors. Optical tracking sensors are used for location and navigation.
A number of these input devices also provide users with force feedback to the limbs and other parts of the body, in order to help orientate the person in the 3D world using haptics and sensory technology.
Features of Virtual Reality
The virtual reality experience is a really unique experience and cannot be easily mistaken for another. This is because there are some features that must be present to be able to truly give the virtual reality experience. Some of these key features include;
1. The Virtual World
This is an imaginary computer-generated space that exists aside from the real world. This space is created using a simulation medium that is made up of visual elements that are rendered using computer graphics. The relations and interactions of these elements are defined by rules that are set by the creator of the virtual world.
Virtual reality is used to place users in a virtual space that is cut from the real world on a sensory level. This is done by using virtual reality headsets that occupy the whole field of vision of the user. Headphones are used to achieve the same results with sounds from the virtual world and thus immersing the users into the virtual world.
Because both vision and hearing are central to how a person perceives a space, virtual reality applications require more than just the graphics of the virtual world. Accurate environmental sounds and spatial characteristics are a must in order to achieve a truly immersive experience in virtual reality.
Even though audio-visual information is readily replicated in virtual reality, more developmental efforts are still ongoing in other to deepen the immersive experience through other sensory parts of the body. Advancements in haptic technologies have made it possible to feel true-to-life sensations in the virtual reality experience.
Omnidirectional treadmills are used as tactile inputs to allow users to feel like they are walking through the simulation without the fear of bumping into other things in the real world.
3. Sensory Feedback
Virtual reality systems track the position of the users in the given space in order for the computer to be able to render the changes in position. This is so as to give the illusion that when users move their heads or their bodies they are actually moving it in the virtual world.
The input in this scenario is made to be as close as possible to reality. To move around users o not press a button as is common in traditional systems, in virtual reality systems, they actually move around.
In order to feel real, a virtual environment should have simulated elements that can be interacted with. Interactions like picking up the items, throwing, squeezing, breaking, and even pushing them like buttons.
Types of Virtual Reality
There are a lot of different types of virtual realities. They are sometimes classified by using the technology they are based upon. There can either be simulation-, avatar image-, projector-, and desktop-based virtual realities.
1. Simulation-based Virtual Realities
Simulation-based virtual realities give their users the impression of actually performing an action by predicting reactions that will be caused by inputs from the users’ actions and then giving back the corresponding cues to the user.
A common example is the driving simulator, which gives a person using it the impression of driving the actual type of vehicle that is selected. It does this by predicting the vehicular motion that would be caused by the drivers’ input and feeding back the corresponding accurate motion, visual and audio cues to the user. Another example is a cooking simulator.
2. Avatar-based Virtual Realities
In avatar image-based virtual reality, users can join a virtual environment in the form of an avatar as well as real video. Participation in this 3D distributed virtual environment can be in the form of a real avatar or a real video. Users select the type of participation they will use based on the capabilities of their systems.
3. Projector-based Virtual Realities
For projector-based virtual reality, the modeling of the real environment plays a crucial role in all its various applications. This category of virtual reality finds its application in robot navigation, construction modeling, and airplane simulation.
To generate models that are very realistic, it is of vital importance that acquired 3D data must be accurately registered. Most times a camera is used to model small objects at a short distance.
4. Desktop-based Virtual Realities
Desktop-based virtual reality displays a 3D virtual world on a regular desktop display. However, it does not make use of any specialized positional tracking equipment. A lot of First-person video games make very good examples of this category. In this form of virtual reality, there is no sense of peripheral vision.
It, however, makes use of various triggers, responsive characters, and various other interactive devices to give the users a feel of being in a virtual world.
Applications of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has its most common application in entertainment applications like video games and 3D cinemas. The new generation of headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR has set off new waves of application development. They give a whole new dimension to the world of video games.
In 3D cinemas, virtual reality has found applications in sporting events, short films, fine arts, and music videos. Some roller coasters and theme parks now also incorporate virtual reality to be able to match haptic feedback with visual effects.
Virtual reality also finds application in social sciences, psychology as cost-effective tools for therapy and to replicate interactions in a controlled and safe environment. It is also used in the rehabilitation of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. As they are able to virtually simulate experiences they would not be able to have in their current condition.
In medicine, simulated surgical environments have been rendered in virtual reality. They provide effective and repetitive training at low risk and cost. This allows trainees to recognize and amend errors, thereby increasing their proficiency.
In the education and workplace field, virtual reality can simulate classrooms and workplaces for safety, health, training, and educational purposes. It gives learners an environment to develop their skills without real-world consequences of failure.
In photography, virtual reality cameras can be used to create 360-degree camera shots
Advantages of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has a lot of advantages, a few of these being;
- Little/no risk
- A safe, controlled area
- Realistic scenarios
- It can be done remotely, thereby saving time and money
- It Improves retention and recall in students and trainees
- It helps to simplify complex problems and situations
- It is suitable and can be matched to different learning styles
- It is very innovative and enjoyable and makes it easier to achieve high levels of engagement and understanding.