Virtual reality is using computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional world that a user can manipulate and explore while feeling as if he were in that world. Scientists, theorists and engineers have designed dozens of devices and applications to achieve this goal. Opinions differ on what exactly constitutes a true VR experience, but in general it should include:
- Three-dimensional images that appear to be life-sized from the perspective of the user
- The ability to track a user's motions, particularly his head and eye movements, and correspondingly adjust the images on the user's display to reflect the change in perspective. The topic will include defining the characteristics of VR, technology used in VR systems, its growing applications and some concerns about virtual reality.
In a virtual reality environment, a user experiences immersion, or the feeling of being inside and a part of that world. He is also able to interact with his environment in meaningful ways. The combination of a sense of immersion and interactivity is called telepresence. Telepresence is the extent to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the immediate physical environment. In other words, an effective VR experience causes you to become unaware of your real surroundings and focus on your existence inside the virtual environment. The proposed two main components of immersion are: depth of information and breadth of information. Depth of information refers to the amount and quality of data in the signals a user receives when interacting in a virtual environment. For the user, this could refer to a display’s resolution, the complexity of the environment’s graphics, the sophistication of the system’s audio output, etc. The breadth of information is defined as the number of sensory dimensions simultaneously presented. A virtual environment experience has a wide breadth of information if it stimulates all your senses. Most virtual environment experiences prioritize visual and audio components over other sensory-stimulating factors, but scientists and engineers are now looking into ways to incorporate a users’ sense of touch. Systems that give a user force feedback and touch interaction are called haptic systems. For immersion to be effective, a user must be able to explore what appears to be a life-sized virtual environment and be able to change perspectives seamlessly.
A basic VR system consists of the following components:
Reality engine: Refers to a 3D graphic hardware architecture which is based on the same components that make up a personal computer, but requires more power to support graphic function.
Headsets: Head-mounted display (HMD) employs a small screen or a pair of small screens in a helmet to allow users to look at an image from different angles. HMD units usually employ cathode-ray tube (CRT) or liquid crystal display (LCD) technology. Additionally, most HMDs have head-trackers so that the VR system can respond to head motion. Thanks to the growing virtual reality gaming market, the global HMDs market is expected to reach $15.25 billion by 2020.
Gloves: People who experience VR are often seen wearing gloves made with fiber-optic cables or have light-emitting diodes. These materials allow the system to record hand or joint movement, and then the computer will project the movement to a virtual scene. In some cases, gesture-sensors are also used in gloves.
Audio unit: By using a three-dimensional audio system, VR is able to enhance the virtual reality experience.
The initial use of VR was limited to the primitive demonstration of a few blocky figures being chased around a chessboard. While the entertainment industry is still interested in virtual reality applications in games and theatre experiences, the really interesting uses for VR systems are in other fields. Virtual reality was once limited to expensive headsets and specialist computing systems, now all that is needed to experience the more powerful AR is a mobile phone, laptop or tablet. Virtual reality is an emerging technology that has resulted in rapid expansion in the development of virtual immersive environments for use as educational simulations. Virtual reality technology can provide a safe environment for patients to come into contact with things they fear, whilst remaining in a controlled and safe environment. Many people are familiar with the term virtual reality but are unsure about the uses of this technology. Gaming is an obvious virtual reality application as are virtual worlds but there are a whole host of uses for virtual reality – some of which are more challenging or unusual than others. Here is a list of the many applications of virtual reality: Military, Education, Healthcare, Entertainment, Fashion, Heritage, Business, Engineering, Sport, Media, Scientific Visualization, Telecommunications, Construction, Film, Programming languages.
- Virtual Reality (VR) is growing at a respectable rate and the latest predictions are that this sub-sector will grow by 55.3% within the next three years. Globally the Augmented Reality (AR) and VR industries are penetrating deeply into conventional industries such as manufacturing, automotive and electronics.
- Some architects create virtual models of their building plans so that people can walk through the structure before the foundation is even laid. Clients can move around exteriors and interiors and ask questions, or even suggest alterations to the design. Virtual models can give you a much more accurate idea of how moving through a building will feel than a miniature model.
- Car companies have used VR technology to build virtual prototypes of new vehicles, testing them thoroughly before producing a single physical part. Designers can make alterations without having to scrap the entire model, as they often would with physical ones. The development process becomes more efficient and less expensive as a result.
- Virtual environments are used in training programs for the military, the space program and even medical students. On the whole, VR systems are much safer and, in the long run, less expensive than alternative training methods. Soldiers who have gone through extensive VR training have proven to be as effective as those who trained under traditional conditions. Advances in mapping technology (both at a ground level and via satellite) allow military forces across the globe to use VR in powerful ways. AR and VR training simulations can allow special forces to view their battlegrounds ahead of their infiltration. Generals can stand within the theatre of battle and command troops from thousands of miles away. Drone pilots can have a 360-degree view from their virtual bodies flying high above targets.
- In medicine, staff can use virtual environments to train in everything from surgical procedures to diagnosing a patient. Surgeons have used virtual reality technology to not only train and educate, but also to perform surgery remotely by using robotic devices. The biggest challenge in using VR technology to perform robotic surgery is latency, since any delay in such a delicate procedure can feel unnatural to the surgeon. Such systems also need to provide finely-tuned sensory feedback to the surgeon. Another medical use of VR technology is psychological therapy.
VR challenges and concerns
The big challenges in the field of virtual reality are developing better tracking systems, finding more natural ways to allow users to interact within a virtual environment and decreasing the time it takes to build virtual spaces. As for creating virtual worlds, it can take a long time to create a convincing virtual environment - the more realistic the environment, the longer it takes to make it. Another challenge for VR system developers is creating a system that avoids bad ergonomics. Many systems rely on hardware that encumbers a user or limits his options through physical tethers. Without well-designed hardware, a user could have trouble with his sense of balance or inertia with a decrease in the sense of telepresence, or he could experience cybersickness, with symptoms that can include disorientation and nausea. Some psychologists are concerned that immersion in virtual environments could psychologically affect a user. They suggest that VR systems that place a user in violent situations, particularly as the perpetuator of violence, could result in the user becoming desensitized. In effect, there’s a fear that virtual environment entertainment systems could breed a generation of sociopaths. Another emerging concern involves criminal acts. In the virtual world, defining acts such as murder or sex crimes has been problematic. Studies indicate that people can have real physical and emotional reactions to stimuli within a virtual environment, and so it’s quite possible that a victim of a virtual attack could feel real emotional trauma.
VR in electronics
Up until recently, virtual reality (VR) has widely been viewed as more of a consumer gimmick than a functional industrial tool. While much has been predicted about the potential impact of VR and augmented reality (AR) in the industrial space, the reality is that most of the applications that came to the fore in 2017 were related to gaming, virtual tours and the occasional marketing stunt. It is expected to change with advancements in processing power and reductions in hardware size making the possibility of more portable, and more cost-effective, applications a growing reality within the electronics and manufacturing space. Many of today’s most advanced computer innovations began as games and other entertainment, from the logical structure of user interfaces to the elaborate graphics that have become ubiquitous in operating systems and other software. Brands are experimenting with immersive technology to create electronic empathy – blending digital and experiential marketing to bring shared experiences to a wider audience. Augmented reality (AR) adds a virtual digital layer to our smartphone screens and mixed reality blends physical and digital elements. Immersive technology creates empathy by putting the individual at the centre of every experience, and it has broadened its reach from gaming and entertainment to news, documentaries, education and healthcare. And now it is giving brands new ways to foster electronic empathy by linking virtual, physical and emotional realities. The viral AR game Pokémon Go uses smartphone geolocation to present digital creatures on our screens as if they are interacting with our physical environment. New electronics technologies and devices are changing the electronic industry every day. All most all electronics giants are putting resources into VR, hoping to capture the growing market. Use of virtual reality (VR) or Augmented reality (AR) is no more limited to online games, video streaming and Facebook’s Oculus headsets. The powerful simulation allows VR to power numerous applications in gaming, entertainment, aerospace, defense, medical, industrial, and retail. The market for VR technology was valued, at $980.4 million in 2014 and by 2020 the number is expected to reach $15899.1 million. With the slow growth in the global smartphone market, the booming of the VR devices market is definitely the next growing market for the electronic industry.
Taking advantage of improvements in the resolution of VR headsets, the virtual facility will allow data centre managers to explore their simulations, seeing visual representations of temperature and flow throughout individual racks and the data centre as a whole. When looking at cooling performance, site staff could use this system to visualize the airflow around overheating devices, helping to fully understand the thermal environment – before going back to the desktop and making improvements to the model. In the future, we aim to allow a user to make interactive changes whilst still in VR. While there are already desktop-based simulation suites that allow data centre managers to test such changes, the ability to physically interact with the data centre provides an entirely new perspective, helping to identify potential issues and solutions that may not be immediately clear on a screen. It is believed, however, that we could soon see VR used to visualize the flow of air and heat within such designs, by allowing engineers to shrink themselves down and ‘climb inside’ their electronic devices. Previously, such technology would have proved impossible, due to the hardware limitations of many virtual reality headsets. In order to be useful simulation results, and other geometry, must be rendered in extremely accurate detail – something that the blockish graphics of older VR headsets simply couldn’t provide. Now however, as VR technology advances, and high-intensity processing hardware grows smaller and more portable, using virtual reality to interact with complex electronics simulations is rapidly becoming a feasible reality. While there is still a long way to go before these technologies are adopted into the mainstream, such trials are an important stage in considering new and innovative solutions to electronics prototyping and design.
The recent success of virtual reality applications is based on computer-generated perception blends into the real and virtual worlds. So far, these apps have largely used optical methods for motion detection. Physicists are working to develop an ultrathin electronic magnetic sensor that can be worn on skin. Just by interacting with magnetic fields, the device enables a touchless manipulation of virtual and physical objects. At first glance, the shiny little gold elements look like a modern tattoo. But on this extremely thin, almost invisible foil that sticks to the palm of the hand like a second skin, there are sensors which provide people with a "sixth sense" for magnetic fields. These sensors will enable people to manipulate everyday objects or control appliances both in the physical world and in augmented or virtual reality with mere gestures, similar to how we use a smartphone now. Electronic skin traces the movement of a hand, for example, by changing its position with respect to the external magnetic field of a permanent magnet. This not only means that we can digitize its rotations and translate them to the virtual world but also even influence objects there. Using this technique, the researchers managed to control a virtual light bulb on a computer screen in a touchless way.