Virtual Reality: Theory and Practice
August 2nd, 2016
Virtual reality has been around for quite a few years, but these days it's getting more and more attention in tech conferences and among investors. Large companies create headsets for it, developers are working hard on creating apps and games for such headsets. Let’s talk about what virtual reality is and how does it work.
Virtual Reality (VR) concept comes from the definitions of both “virtual” and “real,” coming at the crossroads of the fantasy world and reality of the world around us. Thus, VR usually means “near-reality” and typically refers to a specific type of emulation or copying of the reality.
In addition to the VR, there is also augmented reality - partial emulation of the surrounding reality, which is superimposed on the real world and allows you to obtain additional information about what’s in front of you. This is the technology that made Pokemon Go so popular - on his / her cell phone the user sees cartoon Pokemon running around and jumping on top of the real objects. The Japanese fantasy creatures are superimposed onto the real world.
We perceive the world through five senses - taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. These, however, are only the most obvious of our senses. The truth is that actually, people have a lot more senses than the abovementioned, for example, a sense of balance. These “implicit” sensory inputs along with sensory information processing functions vested in our brain allow providing a rich flow of information about our environment.
Everything we know about our reality comes through the senses. In other words, all our experience of reality is merely a combination of sensory (“tangible”) information, interpreted by the brain. If you “substitute” the incoming data, the very perception of reality will change as a result and you would get another version of reality, which does not exist anywhere except within your mind. This is what is called virtual reality.
Therefore, virtual reality is a collection of our sensations, formed under the influence of the computer-generated virtual environment and with which we can interact in some way.
In the technical sense, “virtual reality” is a term used to describe a 3D computer-generated environment that can be explored by a person. The person becomes “a part” of this world and can either manipulate objects there or perform certain actions.
HOW DO YOU BECOME A PART OF VIRTUAL REALITY?
These days, you need special devices - headset, gloves, or other devices - to dive into the virtual reality. They are used to stimulate our senses and are the sources of “fake” information for our mind to process and create an illusion of reality.
It’s quite difficult to “cheat” our brain. After all, our feelings, including the information processing tools, have evolved and as a result, they present us the synchronized version of the world around us in accordance with our previous experience. In other words, our brain knows what is real and what is fake on an intrinsic level. This aspect makes it difficult to create a virtual reality that truly FEELS real, but with a greater depth of immersion into the VR, our brain can start believing in what it “sees.”
All that said, in order to create virtual reality - such reality that all body’s senses would believe in it - several channels should be developed that would affect all those senses. For example, to create a realistic image, you need a headset or virtual reality glasses and special displays. An innovation that is currently undergoing testing phase - virtual retinal monitors, devices that broadcast the image directly onto the retina of the eye. As a result, the person will see the image “hanging” in front of him in the air. Special multi-channel speaker systems will simulate sounds that will help to navigate in a virtual world. Besides all those, there are also devices with feedback, that are able to imitate the tactile sensations (for example, gloves).
Virtual Reality & Entertainment
One of the most promising directions of virtual reality development is the entertainment industry. Immersive movies and video games are great examples of VR in practice.
VR glasses can also help fill one’s travels with even brighter colors. For example, you can see how this or that building or historical site looked like many years ago. Tourist attractions will also benefit from the technology of virtual reality immersion. You can get behind the wheel of a “Formula 1” car and burn up the road, even though your physical body will be comfortably sitting in a chair. You can also visit Antarctica and see polar bears and melting glaciers, while you’re physically located in Germany or the US.
Germany already is implementing these solutions into their entertainment. For example, you can ride the roller coaster wearing a VR helmet which will make you experience flying on the back of a huge dragon.
The company called the Void has decided to go further than others and began the construction of the first ever Virtual Reality Park - filled with 4D effects and full immersion in games and entertainment. Besides traditional rides, there will also be such unusual locations as houses with monsters or space station with alien invaders. The equipment the company plans to install in the park will generate the effects of rain, wind, smoke and other - all that is needed for maximum immersion.
Virtual Reality and Everyday Life
The use of VR in everyday life can be quite diverse: architecture, sports, medicine, the arts, entertainment, education, and the list can go on as far as human imagination allows. Virtual reality can lead to new and exciting discoveries in these areas, which will have an impact on our daily lives.
Everywhere where human intervention is too dangerous, expensive, or impractical, VR may be the solution. For example, simulators for training fighter pilots and surgeons using virtual reality technology will prepare them for the most difficult and risky situations without the threat of irreparable mistakes, gain experience of the real world without fear to break a multimillion-dollar aircraft or injure the patient. As the virtual reality technologies become cheaper and more mainstream, we can expect VR (and its “cousin” - augmented reality) to spring up in various fields of development, changing the way we interact with digital technologies in general.
With all that said, enjoy the virtual reality, but don't forget about the real one :)