Technology / Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality

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Autor:  anton  04 September 2010
Tags:  Virtual,  Reality
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v The Three Levels of VR : 5





v Video Display Devices: 10

v Audio Output Devices: 10

v Tactile Response Devices: 11

v Interactive Input Devices: 11

v Computers and Software: 12


v The Cave: 13

v Head-Mounted Display (HMD): 13

v The Boom: 14

v Input Devices and other Sensual Technologies: 14

v Shared Virtual Environments: 15

v VRML: 15



v The New Rules of Behavior: 17

v Adverse Effects: 17

Applications of VR 18

v A List of Existing VR examples: 18


v Architecture: 19

v Visualization: 21

v Entertainment: 21

v VR in Movies: 22

v Manufacturing: 25

v Augmented Reality: 25

v Education & Training: 26

v Medical: 27





Throughout the many stages of media Virtual Reality (VR) has helped us to extend our perception, imagination and manipulation. VR is just an extra step on the long road, bringing the imagination as close and realistic as reality itself.

After the first experiments in the fifties with complex kinesthetic devices like multiple cameras, senso-motoric devices and even smell generators, more elegant head-mounted devices were developed in the early nineties. Both defense research and the computer games industry were the main stimulators of VR.

VR is everything and it is hard to describe what VR is not: It encapsulates all previous media, even books, slides, pictures, audio, video and multimedia. The typical contribution of VR is its effect of ‘immersion’; the user feels as if (s)he is in a different world. Both the sensations and the actions of the user should resemble as much as possible to humans in a normal physical environment; i.e., not only seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting, but also speaking, walking, jumping, swimming, gestures and facial expressions. The VR utopia means that the user does not perceive the fact that the computer can detect his behavior, and also that it can perceive the real world. The generation of proprioceptive and kinetic stimuli is only possible if the user is placed in a tilted room like the hydraulic controlled cabins for flight simulators. The generation of taste and smell, and the realistic enervation of the human skin as if one touches an object or another person may be one of the most challenging and complex steps for VR to take in the forthcoming years.

Augmented reality occurs when the user faces the real world, but on top of that the VR environment superimposes a computer-generated message in order to assist the user to perform the right operations. VR is a desired technology for those applications in which reality by itself does not exist (yet), cannot be accessed, or is too dangerous or expensive to betray.

As for many of the today’s VR proponents ‘Reality’ sounds as the only inevitable physical world, they rather prefer ‘Virtual Environments’. This leaves behind the idea that there is mainly one real world. However, because of its widespread usage we will maintain the term VR. A computer in itself is an inherent tool to emulate situations and environments that are not there in reality.

VR in its current shape suggests the user that he is in a fictitious environment. The next generation of VR suggests that you can really walk around there, and can manipulate and experiment. This environment does not necessarily need the same properties as the real world. There can be different forces, gravity, magnetic fields etc. Also, in contrast to the real solid objects, in VR the objects can be penetrated.


There are many varying definitions and terms for virtual reality (VR), all of which could be considered accurate within certain circles of knowledge. Since the technology behind VR is still basically a new field, there are a lot of researchers, authors, and columnists spewing out their own theories behind VR. Naturally, everyone offers a new and "better" definition-from Myron Krueger's terminology that appeals more toward the layperson up to the much more accurate and technical definition by Howard Rheingold.

§ Krueger defines VR as an "artificial reality." His research has an artistic and psychological slant and is thus reflected in the following definition:

"An artificial reality perceives a participant's action in terms of the body's relationship to a graphic world and generates responses that maintain the illusion that his actions are taking place within that world" (Krueger 1991, 59).

In Krueger's artificial reality, art and science become interrelated, and the viewer interacts with and actually becomes part of the new simulated environment.

§ On the other hand Rheingold dove more into what actually makes up virtual reality. He states: "that the idea of immersion (using stereoscopy, gaze-tracking, and other technologies to create the illusion of being inside a computer generated scene) is one of the two foundations of virtual reality technology. The idea of navigation (creating a computer model of a molecule or a city and enabling the user to move around, as if inside it) is the other fundamental element" (Rheingold 1991, 202).

These definitions are only two authors’ viewpoints. Artificial Reality is probably the most dated of any definition (it was coined back in the mid- 1970s.) Since that time, specific projects have been started and further terms have been thrown around- virtual worlds, virtual cockpits, virtual environments, and virtual workstations. Finally, in 1989, Jaron Lanier, CEO of VPL Research Inc., coined the term virtual reality to encompass all of the virtual projects under a single phrase. This term refers (in general) to any three-dimensional reality implemented with stereo viewing goggles and "data" gloves.


A breakthrough in VR came with the development of a head-mounted display with two tiny stereoscopic screens positioned just a few inches in front of the eyes. The most popular VR system is one designed by field pioneer, Jaron Lanier (1989). The system features a head-mounted display called the eye-phone. Users also wear a data-glove that generates movement and interaction in the virtual environment. Its estimated system price is $205,000. Movement in Cyberspace is simulated by shifting the optics in the field of vision in direct response to movement of certain body parts, such as the head or hand. Turn the head, and the scene shifts accordingly. The sensation is like being inside an artificial world that the computer has created. The eye-phone uses a set of wide-angle optics that covers approximately 140 degrees, almost the entire horizontal field of view. As the user moves his head to look around, the images shift to create an illusion of movement. The user moves while the virtual world is standing still. The glasses also sense the user's facial expressions through embedded sensors, and that information can control the virtual version of the user's body. A group at NASA developed a system of helmet, glove, and a monochrome three-dimensional reality. The data glove, a key interface device, uses position tracking sensors and fiber optic strands running down each finger, allowing the user to manipulate objects that exist only within the computer simulated environment. When the computer senses that the user's hand is touching a virtual object, the user feels the virtual object. The user can pick up an object and do things with it just as he would do with a real object. The data glove's most obvious application will be in robotics, particularly in the handling of hazardous materials, or by astronauts to control robot repairers from the safety of a spaceship, or from a space station, or even from earth.

v The Three Levels of VR :

The three levels of VR seem to emerge with an increasing amount of impact-

§ 1st Level- VR is primarily a method to allow computer users to navigate through a fictitious world while continuously presenting an updated view. Many potential applications for learning and training are waiting, like allowing the student to explore spatial, mechanics, kinesthetic topics, Science and Physics like in ‘Newton’s World’. Beyond the travel through worlds of geometric objects, also more organic shapes can be traveled through like organic tissues, sediment layers, large molecules and for instance the more complex orientation in airplanes cable wiring with the help of VR. For instance, Boeing’s VR technique was used for the assembly of its 747 electric wiring

§ 2nd Level- VR as the 3D successor of the desktop metaphor. As ever more documents and data files need a time dimension (animations and the documents’ evolution through time), VR will become the defector standard for navigation.

§ 3rd Level- This will be the most pervasive for education. VR becomes the encompassing way to arrange learning events and learning transactions. Examples are :

a) Instead of communicating with a real real-time teacher, the student can talk with a virtual teacher; it is not necessary to know who exactly your counterpart is. It can be a real teacher or professor; however it can also be an expert, co-student or a combination of several people. It remains essential however that you as a student can always feel as if you are in a learning environment with feedback, explanations and negotiation about meaning and consequences.

b) Instead of working with a real machinery or expensive equipment, students may finally work with virtual ones. In case it concerns the training in an administrative environment, the fictitious office is the environment. The virtuality aspect should not only be seen as a compromise, it is also an advantage in order to regulate the level of complexity. Also, in case of mistakes, the damage and danger will be reduced.

c) Instead of practicalities and pre-service training, the future student can exercise with fictitious cases. However, as the computer system will search for similar students at a distance, it will allow them to take roles and meet realistic social scenarios even when they have been arranged. The only difference with the real situation is that the commercial and financial connotations have been omitted.

Though the existing literature is mainly focusing on the methodological and tool aspects of the first two levels, this third level seems to have the future. However for to-morrows research agenda, this line may still be a bit too advantageous at the moment. It will be taken as a new educational scenario finally.


Computer technologists were not the first people to think of providing realistic artificial experiences. In the mid-1950s, the movie industry went through a period of experimentation that introduced Cinerama and Cinemascope. In 1956, Morton Heilig invented an arcade-style attraction called Sensorama, which still exists today (in Heilig's backyard, under an old ragged tarp) you sit on a seat, grasp motorcycle handlebars, and hold your head up to two stereo-mounted lenses. The seat and handlebars vibrate as you look at a three-dimensional movie taken at eye level in Manhattan traffic. Wind blows in your face at a velocity corresponding to your movement in the scene. As you travel, the smell of exhaust fumes and the aroma of pizza are present at appropriate moments. The idea behind Sensorama was to create the ultimate film experience, but because it was never intended for interaction, it is not true virtual reality as we define it today. However, because Heilig's idea was to immerse the viewer in a completely synthetic experience it is widely accepted that this was the first commercial attempt to use virtual reality (Welter 1990, 66). If this had been a success, today we would probably have had arcade games that surpassed anything imaginable.

In the field of computers, the first research was started in 1966 by Tom Furness at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (Horn 1991, 57). He was experimenting with an alternative for displaying information to a pilot during combat situations. Furness continued development of the heads-up type of display that allowed pilots to see graphic instruments on the inside of their helmet visors. "Traditional" cockpit displays are mounted below eye level, so the pilot must constantly glance down at the instrumentation. During combat this is unacceptable.

It occurred to Furness that he could display computer graphic representations of information outside the cockpit using the same type of technology. In effect the first work on high-tech flight simulators was begun. Furness depicted the three-dimensional graphic space through which the pilot was flying. This display rendered graphic objects of enemy missiles and enemy airspace. Pilots could look around in this space by turning their heads. They found this system effective because the visualization of the three-dimensional combat environment, previously gained only through long experience, was now portrayed in a concrete way that they could grasp very quickly (Krueger 1991, 120).

Much of this work was classified until 1983, and even then it was unknown to the world for the most part. This technology was limited to the cockpit environment and was far too expensive for general application.

In 1969, at the University of Utah, Ivan Sutherland, the father of computer graphics, implemented a head-mounted display that generated two stereoscopic images of a three- dimensional scene (Fisher, Tazelaar 1990, 219). These images were displayed on two tiny monitors, one for each eye. These monitors were mounted on an apparatus suspended from the ceiling and strapped to the viewer's head.

As the viewer turned his head, he could look around a three-dimensional graphic room. The movements of his head were detected by the apparatus and were relayed to a computer, which generated an appropriate view- the view that the person would see if he were in the room, looking in that direction.


At the present time, mentioning VR will bring the movie Lawnmower Man to mind. While the experiences portrayed in this movie are a far cry from current VR technology, the movie does make a very good point: The most exciting work being done in VR is entertainment related. Instead of simply watching television or guiding a tiny animated figure through a computer game, you can become part of the action- fighting opponents as a giant mechanized robot, crashing a car in demolition derby, exploring in a world of checkerboards and pterodactyls, and much more.

A new VR entertainment product is just appearing in the market. It has been developed by Cyberstudio and marketed by Spectrum Holobtye, Virtuality offers VR game simulations that are among the most realistic. These units include headgear and related devices to give you a 3-D VR effect. Battle Sphere, Legend Quest, Total Destruction, HERO, Dactyl Nightmare and EXOREX are among the currently available "simulations." They are becoming more and more common at entertainment centers around the country.

This is just one new technology that is incorporating VR. Although, Virtuality has a more "arcade" type of appeal, there are other entertainment related applications of VR that are currently available or, at least, that are on the drawing board.

Chicago's Battletech Center is more along the lines of a theme park and is a complete entertainment complex devoted to space warfare (Rheingold 1991, 373). For $7 you can have an experience of a lifetime. You learn how to operate a giant mechanized robot called a Battlemech, which involves responding to terrain changes, adjusting for heat dissipation, and laying out battle strategy. What gives realism and challenge to the Battlemech experience is the fact that you play against living opponents rather than the algorithms of a computer program.

Battlemech and Virtuality appear to be only precursors of a flood of VR options. VR theme rides and parks are being planned by Disney and Universal Studios, and similar attractions may soon appear in Japan.

We must keep in mind that VR is still a very young field. The level of sophistication of the systems involved is high, but progress is still being made in the quality of the visual images- higher resolution, more colors, and faster display rates. As soon as the technology arrives, each of us will be like explorers. As Jaron Lanier once said, "Sometimes I think we've uncovered a new planet, but one that we are inventing instead of discovering. ...virtual reality is an adventure worth centuries” (Menzel 1990, 116).


"Responsive technology will move ever closer to us, becoming the standard interface through which we gain most of our experience" (Krueger 1983, 187). People from different countries could convene for a conference without actually physically going any place. Shut-ins, the handicapped, and the elderly could do things that most people take for granted-taking a stroll through the park or a shopping trip at the mall. Our everyday experiences could include exploring the far side of the moon, learning what life as a dinosaur could have been like, or basking in the sun on the "shores" of mars. Virtual reality offers a higher dimension of exploration to both leisure and learning experiences.


Virtual reality is made possible primarily through technologies which address the need to interface a person's natural senses with the computer's representation of reality. Video display devices are used to provide input to the visual senses. Audio output devices are utilized to engage the audio senses. The sense of touch is provided through the use tactile response devices. In order to interact with a virtual environment it is then necessary to combine these devices along with interactive input devices to synthesize the perceptual stimuli into a cohesive representation of reality. This task is performed by the computer and its software.

v Video Display Devices:

Visual perception in Human beings results from combining the information gathered by the eye with the visual cues that are interpreted by the brain. By providing the visual senses with the same type of information containing the desired visual cues, it becomes possible to generate a virtual image that looks real. This is the technique that is employed with today's video display devices which include video monitors and LCD goggles.

Currently, today's computers, including those not used in virtual reality, use video monitors to convey visual information to their users. These monitors are technologically no different from the television and rely upon the same basic components of a cathode ray tube and the associated electronic circuitry to display an image. The only difference is that a video monitor does not contain a television tuner and instead receives its input from a computer that is connected to it.

The type of video output device that is used primarily for virtual reality are liquid crystal display goggles, referred to as LCD goggles. These resemble regular optic glasses, but do not use clear glass or plastic lenses and were pioneered by Ivan Sutherland. Instead, these devices are made with lenses that contain the same liquid crystal displays that are used in common calculators. These devices made by companies like 3DTV Corp. in San Rafael, CA, are available for $2,000 to $3,500. Images made using these devices can be very convincing utilizing lighting, and coloration characteristics, to best maximize the 3D effectiveness of the production (Ostman 1992, 13).

v Audio Output Devices:

The audio world also exists in three dimensions. "The inclusion of sound to a virtual reality system adds an extra dimension of reality to the environment" (Lavroff 1992, 28). An example of the sophisticated devices available has been developed by Crystal River Engineering, Inc. in Groveland, CA. Their headphone system called the Convolvotron uses 128+ processors to re-create a true three-dimensional aural environment. This feature is accomplished by omni-directionally recording music or sounds for replay through the headphone system, thereby accurately reproducing the necessary perceptual cues.

v Tactile Response Devices:

One of the newer technologies to be developed for virtual reality has been that of tactile response devices. These are systems which allow information about a virtual environment to be presented through the participant's sense of touch. Tactile response falls into two general categories, tactile feedback and force feedback. Tactile feedback is handled using tactile stimulating devices called tactors. Tactors are small pieces of metal built into the fingers of special gloves and have the capability to change their shape when a current is applied to them. By using tactors, it is possible to simulate the feeling of touching an object with your fingers even though no physical object exists. Xtensory, Inc. in Scotts Valley, CA manufactures gloves of this type. Force feedback devices have been created which are made up of a glove with an exoskeleton. These devices change the amount of resistance applied to the movement of the hand inside and thus can simulate the presence of a solid or semi-solid object present in the hand. This technology is relatively new and to date has not resulted in any commercially available products.

v Interactive Input Devices:

Once a virtual environment is presented by the computer to the user, they will undoubtedly wish to interact with it. In order to do this there must also be a way for the user to send information to the computer. Methods being used to this end, range from the normal computer keyboard to voice recognition.

The computer keyboard has been around for years and functions the same way when being used to interact with a virtual environment. Devices such as computer joysticks, trackballs, and hand gestures are now replacing the keyboard because of the simplified way in which they are operated. An interesting development for use in the three-dimensional world of virtual reality was the three axes trackball. This device is similar to conventional trackballs containing a billiard- sized ball which can be rotated along the x and y axes, but adds the ability to be moved along the z axis.

Perhaps the most promising form of interactive input has been the evolution of speech recognition systems, making the access to virtual reality as easy as speaking to another person. Devices such as these consist primarily of a microphone that could easily be incorporated into the headset containing the visual and aural feedback devices. Another advantage of using speech recognition is that it allows the more awkward keyboards or joysticks to be eliminated altogether, thus allowing a greater degree of freedom of movement.

v Computers and Software:

Last, but not least, all of these different input and output systems must be smoothly integrated. This is the job of the computer workstation. Computer workstations used in the virtual reality field today have been specifically designed to meet the enormous task of coordinating, manipulating, and representing the various components mentioned before. Computer application programs written to allow the presentation of graphic, audio, and perceptual information allow the "user" to enter the virtual world. The computer and its programs must then handle the input from the user in order to realistically simulate their interaction with that artificial reality.

The computer hardware and software capable of implementing virtual reality range from home computer systems costing around $5,000 to the high-end Silicon Graphics, Inc. workstations costing over $100,000 (Newquist 1992, 95). Although the price of the computer hardware and software has been one of the major factors prohibiting wide spread availability of virtual reality technology, recent breakthroughs are beginning to promise dramatically lower prices in the near future.


I. Immersive VR -

The unique characteristics of immersive virtual reality can be summarized as follows:

§ Head-referenced viewing provides a natural interface for the navigation in three-dimensional space and allows for look-around, walk-around, and fly-through capabilities in virtual environments.

§ Stereoscopic viewing enhances the perception of depth and the sense of space.

§ The virtual world is presented in full scale and relates properly to the human size.

§ Realistic interactions with virtual objects via data glove and similar devices allow for manipulation, operation, and control of virtual worlds.

§ The convincing illusion of being fully immersed in an artificial world can be enhanced by auditory, haptic, and other non-visual technologies.

v The Cave:

The CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) was developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago and provides the illusion of immersion by projecting stereo images on the walls and floor of a room-sized cube. Several persons wearing lightweight stereo glasses can enter and walk freely inside the CAVE. A head tracking system continuously adjusts the stereo projection to the current position of the leading viewer.

v Head-Mounted Display (HMD):

The head-mounted display (HMD) was the first device providing its wearer with an immersive experience. Evans and Sutherland demonstrated a head-mounted stereo display already in 1965. It took more then 20 years before VPL Research introduced a commercially available HMD, the famous "EyePhone" system (1989).

A typical HMD houses two miniature display screens and an optical system that channels the images from the screens to the eyes, thereby, presenting a stereo view of a virtual world. A motion tracker continuously measures the position and orientation of the user's head and allows the image generating computer to adjust the scene representation to the current view. As a result, the viewer can look around and walk through the surrounding virtual environment. To overcome the often uncomfortable intrusiveness of a head-mounted display, alternative concepts (e.g., BOOM and CAVE) for immersive viewing of virtual environments were developed.

v The Boom:

The BOOM (Binocular Omni-Orientation Monitor) from Fakespace is a head-coupled stereoscopic display device. Screens and optical system are housed in a box that is attached to a multi-link arm. The user looks into the box through two holes, sees the virtual world, and can guide the box to any position within the operational volume of the device. Head tracking is accomplished via sensors in the links of the arm that holds the box.

v Input Devices and other Sensual Technologies:

A variety of input devices like data gloves, joysticks, and hand-held wands allow the user to navigate through a virtual environment and to interact with virtual objects. Directional sound, tactile and force feedback devices, voice recognition and other technologies are being employed to enrich the immersive experience and to create more "sensualized" interfaces.

A data glove allows for interactions with the virtual world:

v Shared Virtual Environments:

In the example illustrated below, three networked users at different locations (anywhere in the world) meet in the same virtual world by using a BOOM device, a CAVE system, and a Head-Mounted Display, respectively. All users see the same virtual environment from their respective points of view. Each user is presented as a virtual human (avatar) to the other participants. The users can see each other, communicated with each other, and interact with the virtual world as a team.

II. Non-immersive VR-

Today, the term 'Virtual Reality' is also used for applications that are not fully immersive. The boundaries are becoming blurred, but all variations of VR will be important in the future. This includes mouse-controlled navigation through a three-dimensional environment on a graphics monitor, stereo viewing from the monitor via stereo glasses, stereo projection systems, and others. Apple's QuickTime VR, for example, uses photographs for the modeling of three-dimensional worlds and provides pseudo look-around and walk-through capabilities on a graphics monitor.


The most exciting is the ongoing development of VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) on the World Wide Web. In addition to HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), that has become a standard authoring tool for the creation of home pages, VRML provides three-dimensional worlds with integrated hyperlinks on the Web. Home pages become home spaces. The viewing of VRML models via a VRML plug-in for Web browsers is usually done on a graphics monitor under mouse-control and, therefore, it is not fully immersive. However, the syntax and data structure of VRML provide an excellent tool for the modeling of three-dimensional worlds that are functional and interactive and that can, ultimately, be transferred into fully immersive viewing systems. The current version VRML 2.0 has become an international ISO/IEC standard under the name VRML97.

The following is a rendering of Escher's Penrose Staircase (modeled by Diganta Saha):


Despite enormous potential in practical application, VR, in its current state, has drawbacks. It is still extremely expensive, the graphics are still cartoonish, and there is still a slight, but perceptible time lag between the user's body movements and their translation in Cyberspace. The equipment the user must wear, such as headgear, gloves, and other devices, needs refinement. At this early stage in the development of VR, no one knows what the long-term effect of using head-mounted displays might be on human eyes or what the possible psychological effect might be from spending too much time in Cyberspace. People using VR head gear sometimes complain about chronic fatigue, a lack of initiative, drowsiness, irritability, or nausea after interacting with a virtual environment for a long time. We do not know how much each of these symptoms depends on the characteristics of the VR systems themselves, or on the characteristics of the individuals using the systems.


"It is likely that artificial reality will be the key metaphor of the immediate future-not just in computer technology, but in intellectual discourse as well" (Krueger 1992, 262). Often, when a new trend is introduced into the social order, society integrates it over time at a relatively slow pace.

v The New Rules of Behavior:

The problem with these new computer based areas of high-technology is that the technology itself is evolving so rapidly that society cannot afford as much time to assimilate as before. Instead new forms of technology are thrust into the everyday lives of people and it becomes almost an afterthought that they must interact with it. Society must therefore learn to adapt faster than ever to an increasingly complex and technologically oriented way of life. New forms of education must be devised that will address the problems of specialization as well as the ever expanding knowledge base. Luckily, the very technology that mandates these changes may also be the means to achieve those lofty goals. Currently, computer based training programs and computerized learning systems are making new inroads into the problems of knowledge acquisition and skill reorientation. Once the methods for further integrating the human senses with the computer's processing capabilities have been developed, these benefits will become the basis for most educational systems. It seems obvious that an improved access path to the human consciousness through the use of computerized mechanisms will surely enable advances in all manners of communication, education, and perception, than ever before.

v Adverse Effects:

Accompanying any new method of social interaction, of course, are possible abuses or adverse effects. The advent of the television was heralded by many as the downfall of Man's pursuit of knowledge and his capacity to communicate with others using traditional media. Since its introduction, however, television has made many things possible that have enriched and enhanced the educational and communication fields. But, this technology was not without its problems. Many surveys have shown that if improperly regulated, children can become addicted to television and have suffered adverse effects. Based on the fact that VR involves a greater degree of "user" immersion, VR's adverse effects could be greater.

Consider that overexposure to television has been blamed for causing intellectual degeneration and to some extent even physical problems such as visual impairment. Overexposure to VR could result in similar effects, but to a greater degree. Carried to the extreme, addiction to VR could lead to the inability to distinguish VR from reality. Therefore, safeguards and methods of averting potential ill effects such as these from becoming widespread must be developed.


Applications for VR are many. Surgeons may soon use VR to walk through the brain or rehearse a surgical operation on a virtual patient. Just as flight simulators are now an integral part of pilot training, soon surgical simulators will revolutionize medical training. VR now makes possible tele-presence, scientific exploration, and discovery. For example, the Jason Project for school children features both tele-presence (the feeling of being in a location other than one's actual location) and tele-operation (controlling a robot submarine) (McLellan, 1995). The Jason Project, now in its sixth year, was designed to generate excitement about studying science, mathematics, and technology. NASA has a tele-presence educational program that uses the Tele-presence-controlled remotely Operated underwater Vehicle (TROV) deployed in Antarctica. By means of distributed computer control architecture developed at NASA, school children in classrooms across the United States can take turns driving the TROV in Antarctica. Someday scientists expect to explore celestial bodies and check out lakes beneath the Antarctic ice pack using VR applications. Disabled persons, through prosthetic interfaces, may one day use tele-robotics to do tasks that are now only a dream; three-D sound may one day provide great applications for the blind.

v A List of Existing VR examples:

Just to give a global impression of the currently available VR application domains, a list of VR applications is given below:

1. Ship Motion Simulation

2. Color Coded Stereo Vision in VRML

3. Robots in Manufacturing Applications

4. Virtual Prototyping of Automotive Interiors

5. Virtual Simulation of Ship Production Processes

6. Architectural Walk-Through: The Barcelona Pavilion

7. Modeling of Underwater Shipwrecks

8. Accident Simulation

9. Virtual Prototyping of a Sailing Yacht

10. Scientific Visualization in VR

11. Architectural Walk-Through: Media Union

12. Augmented Reality in Design, Manufacturing, and Maintenance

13. Geometry Decimation, Stitching, and Editing

14. Flexible and Precise Texture Mapping

15. Modeling of Behavior and Functionality

16. Hazard Detection using Augmented Reality

17. Coronal Mass Ejection Visualization

18. Fetus Visualization

19. Detroit Midfield Terminal Project


Virtual Reality has been around for years. Unfortunately, due to many factors it took some time and efforts to make it what it is today. Virtual reality is still a much hyped term that brings people to speculate on the endless virtues of this emerging technology. As time passes, we are seeing the real applications coming into life. Here, we will try to list the current major application fields that show the most encouraging growth tendencies.

v Architecture:

Image courtesy of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, College of Arts and Sciences

One of the most obvious applications of VR was the so familiar architectural walkthrough. Architecture had this particularity to be very closely compatible with what is a basic VR system. i.e., to let the user explore a 3D scene in real time, showing exactly what this user wanted to see, on demand, without having previously computed it. The real time aspect of such systems revealed to be very appreciated by the users as it was finally enabling them to show, in much more details and realism, their designs to others.

The communication power of these kinds of tools is a major point of interest that will surely keep this application, one of the most used and successful one of Virtual Reality.

Image courtesy of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, College of Arts and Sciences,

The illustration on the left shows a typical scene of an architectural virtual reality system.

These images are not currently achievable in full real time with current technologies. Nevertheless, they closely represent where VR is aiming at in the near future for these kinds of applications.

As computing power, and especially 3D graphics rendering performances increases, we will see more and more of these kinds of level of visual details with a high number of polygons, in real time.

The next scene below clearly shows the power of communication that such systems have. Now imagine that you could move around, without any restrictions in the direction you choose. The creator of the VR system has the choice to model object collisions or let the user walk through walls and objects.

This is another interesting point about VR systems. They let the user go beyond the limits of physics as we know them. With a Virtual Reality system, you have the choice to closely model reality or to permit things that would be impossible to do in real life conditions. This may offer great advantages over more conventional methods of communicating ideas. This is particularly true for architectural applications where you may want to freely go from one point of view to another. Image courtesy of artist Chris LeBlanc

v Visualization:

Image courtesy of Silicon Graphics, Inc.

Visualization application resembles the well-known architectural walk through on many aspects. In fact, we could probably view architectural walk through as a type of visualization application.

v Entertainment:

Image courtesy of Virtual World Entertainment, LLC

Another major use of Virtual Reality environments is found in the entertainment market. This is in fact the biggest application in terms of financial profitability. Many companies are producing games that use Virtual Reality principles. The audience for such games is enormous and explains why this application is so important.

Image courtesy of Cybermind UK Ltd

The gamming industry has a big impact on the Virtual Reality field. It generates the necessary momentum in the industry to accelerate the development of a great variety of VR hardware such as the graphic accelerator cards. If we go back about 10 years in time, it was difficult to find a graphic accelerator card having sufficient computing power to enable the creation of real time VR applications. These boards were costing over thousands of dollars and could barely render 100,000 polygons per second at medium resolution. Other hardware devices such as VR Gloves and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) helmet were partially influenced by the entertainment industry as well. All in all, we can safely say that the Virtual Reality entertainment application is on of those which are playing an important role in defining where the VR industry is going to.

Image courtesy of Illusion Inc.

In the recent years, a new kind of companies emerged. They are called Location Based Entertainment Centers (LBE). They specifically focus on bringing the Virtual Reality concepts to the masses in the form of simulation gears of all sorts. A few examples are shown above and on the right. These platforms enable to user to feel more deeply immersed in a totally new experience.

LBE's brings the high end simulations systems to the grasp of casual users. Making such business profitable isn't necessarily an easy task. This is vastly due to the fact that the required hardware is quite expensive and requires a long period of use to finance itself. There exist a few examples of LBE centers that are successful. As technology evolves and get cheaper, we will certainly see more and more of these entertainment centers appear.

v VR in Movies:

Movies are wonderful things; they can inspire, spark debate, and even make you believe in what you are seeing. Virtual Reality is a creation of a highly interactive computer-based multimedia environment in which the user becomes a participant with the computer in a "virtually real" world. Movies and virtual reality can do the same thing: make you believe what is presented to you. Although there are several movies which use virtual reality in the plot, such as The Lawnmower Man, and Hackers, the one most prevalent is The Matrix. Although this movie contains many aspects of virtual reality, it stands out in our mind so much because it suggests that the world in which we live, is a virtual one. The Matrix has many different aspects of virtual reality and they are incorporated throughout the movie.

Virtual reality is involved in this movie in one major way: it suggests that our world is merely a virtual reality program that was created in order to “control” humans and keep them from the “real world,” which has been taken over by artificial intelligence who harvests humans for power. The main character in the movie is Gary Anderson, affectionately known to the hacker-world as Neo. He is contacted by people who have escaped the Matrix, and through a series of adventures, joins them. At one point in the movie, Neo goes to a psychic to find out if he is the one person who can save the rest of us from the Matrix. While waiting to see the psychic, Neo encounters a boy, there for the same reason, bending spoons without touching them. He watches and asks how he does it. The boy responds in a typical virtual reality response, “concentrate not on the spoon itself, but that there is no spoon.” That is how virtual reality works: you can interact with everything in the virtual world, but it’s not really there.

Every time Neo enters the Matrix, a plug is inserted into the back of his head and he is hooked up to machines. Virtual Reality also uses such equipment. Granted, it is not as drastic as having a probe thrust into the back of your head, but there is special equipment needed such as helmets, gloves, and eye-phones. The glove is made of thin Lycra and is fitted with sensors that monitor finger flexion, extension, hand position and orientation. It is connected to a computer through fiber optic cables. Sensor inputs enable the computer to generate an on-screen image of the hand that follows the operator's hand movements. The glove also has miniature vibrators in the fingertips to provide feedback to the operator from grasped virtual objects. The system allows the operator to interact by grabbing and moving a virtual object within a simulated room while experiencing the "feel" of the object. The eyephone is a head mounted stereo display that shows a computer-made virtual world in full color and 3D; sound effects are also delivered to the headset increase the realism. With this equipment, a person could believe that they are part of the program in the virtual reality system. The same idea is dealt with in The Matrix. If you die while in The Matrix, you died outside. Even though you know it is not real, your body thinks it is.

A similar example would be The Lawnmower Man, a Stephen King movie in which scientists take a mentally retarded man and use virtual reality to try to learn basic things and help him be a normal citizen. Their plan backfires when the man takes over the computer and essentially “moves in” to the hard drive of the computer.

Both of these, The Matrix and The Lawnmower Man, show the possible dangers of virtual reality. This is not a danger when simple playing games are with virtual reality, the problem comes when you are incorporated into the virtual world for longer than you are in the real world. The person learns to live in the virtual world and never wants to leave. This is the danger of becoming too involved with virtual reality, so involved that you believe that you are part of that world.

Virtual reality is a powerful thing. It has the power to help us learn, live out fantasies, and even influence our behavior. Movies can do the same. The movie industry is becoming quickly aware of the many advantages to marketing virtual reality. Virtual reality is still an infant; people do not know very much about it and are very curious; The Matrix, is a movie about a kind of virtual reality. Maybe we do live in a Matrix and need to realize that there is no spoon, or maybe we should just keep our feet planted solidly in reality.

v Manufacturing:

In manufacturing applications, we see all levels of 3D computer assisted design systems (CAD) up to the full blown Virtual Reality system, using high-end head mounted displays and VR gloves.

Image courtesy of The University of Michigan Virtual Reality Laboratory (VRL) at the College of Engineering

This is to say that 3D computer graphics has been in use for years in that field, but it wasn't until recently that the conventional desktop CAD system shifted toward more advanced techniques such as virtual prototyping of mechanical devices and many more.

v Augmented Reality:

Image courtesy of virtualvision Inc.

This is an application that has an enormous potential in term of bringing a real added value to current commercial problems. An AR system, contrary to a VR system, is made to mix both the real and the virtual scene around the user. The figure on the right illustrates this very well. Here, a technician is wearing a see-through HMD so that he can see his surroundings while being able to see added 2D and 3D visual and textual information in an overlay fashion. He can thus proceed with a maintenance task while consulting technical blue prints, or any other relevant document. With the advent of wireless computing, this system can be made full portable so that the employee can move around the factory while using the AR system.

v Education & Training:

Image courtesy of Boeing is used extensively in training pilots. The scene above shows a cockpit in which the pilots train themselves for real situation flying. The picture below is that of a simulated flight.

Image courtesy of Evans & Sutherland

v Medical:

Image courtesy of virtualvision Inc. Image courtesy of Artma Biomedical Inc.

The medicine field is one of the big players at the moment. It has been one of the first few scientific applications of Virtual Reality. The uses are numerous and quite adequate to adapt closely with a VR system.

Sensible surgical interventions can be made much less hazardous when complemented by a VR visualization system. Surgeons can wear head mounted display helmets to provide them diverse visual aids. The use of such helmet can, among other things, let the operator see through opaque tissues of the patient's body and enable him to precisely manipulate surgical instruments while avoiding direct contacts with critical zones inside the body.

More than often, the medical applications use augmented reality VR systems. Other medical applications are more oriented towards a fully synthetic virtual world and are used for training purposes.

This shows how much medicine can benefit from using various incarnations of Virtual Reality to enhance the efficiency of the treatments given.


One aspect that is predominant in each of these applications is the fact that they all try to enhance a system that is already successful in its own area of expertise. The use of Virtual Reality is successful when it brings something new, when it adds value to the whole experience while maintaining the viability and usefulness of a product. For a VR application to be successful, it must add content to the information presented to the user. Too often, we see poor Virtual Reality applications that were designed only to visually impress the user with colorful images and animations. Most of the time, these systems have a short life because they were not really thought to facilitate resolving a particularly difficult task.

Applications that have a notion of volumes, space, being able to perceptually let the user orient him in a volumetric environment are good indices that a Virtual Reality system may be suited for the task.


After examining the components of virtual reality and its nature, and looking back at where it began, where it is now, and where it appears to be heading, it must be re-emphasized that this is still a relatively young technology. Only after we begin to refine the techniques and experience the possibilities, will we be able to tell what VR means to mankind. But, we are beginning to see glimpses of what can be done with this technology as well as what it may provide to our society. Whether good or bad, this technology is the next step in our society’s quest for ever-higher forms of science and methods of expression. It is for these reasons that the technology must be carefully monitored and integrated into our social system, and what better way to start than by using it in entertainment for the enjoyment of all. A virtual environment can represent any three-dimensional world that is either real or abstract. This includes real systems like buildings, landscapes, underwater shipwrecks, spacecrafts, archaeological excavation sites, human anatomy, sculptures, crime scene reconstructions, solar systems, and so on. Of special interest is the visual and sensual representation of abstract systems like magnetic fields, turbulent flow structures, molecular models, mathematical systems, auditorium acoustics, stock market behavior, population densities, information flows, and any other conceivable system including artistic and creative work of abstract nature. These virtual worlds can be animated, interactive, shared, and can expose behavior and functionality. As the technologies of virtual reality evolve, the applications of VR become literally unlimited. It is assumed that VR will reshape the interface between people and information technology by offering new ways for the communication of information, the visualization of processes, and the creative expression of ideas.


1. Essential Virtual Reality (fast) by John Vince



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5. film/matrix/thematrix.html

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