With the rapid technological takeover witnessed across all aspects of lives all over the world, we have experienced in one way or another effects of the most trending technologies, especially within the last ten years. One of the trends in technology drawing extreme attention currently is Virtual Reality, with the media taking more attention of their coverage towards the Virtual Reality. Not many people however have enough knowledge concerning its principles and how it actually works. From the early stages of the 21st century, some special technologists and scientists have wanted to do more than just watching the picture of the universe on their monitors, but actually interact more with it (Burdea & Coiffet, 2003). They therefore came up with Virtual Reality, and today, this technology has gained mass popularity and attention compared to no other.The birth of Virtual Reality idea came in 1965, from Ivan Sutherland’s famous words, “… make that (virtual) world in the window look real, sound real, feel real, and respond realistically to the viewer’s actions”. Virtual reality as at today, has taken us somewhere towards the realization of Ivan’s ‘Promised Land’ challenge. The highlights of virtual reality research in the past 3 decades are summarized as follows:
Between 1960 and 1962, a multisensory stimulator known as sensorama was created by Heiling Morton, that being the very first attempt towards creation of virtual reality. Ivan Sutherland in 1965 then came up with a proposal of the real virtual reality solution, ‘the Ultimate Display’, with concepts of constructing artificial world including smell, taste, sound, forced feedbacks and interactive graphics. Then emerged ‘the Sword of Damocles’, which became the first system of virtual reality experienced in hardware. Ivan Sutherland made a gadget that was considered the very first HMD (Head Mounted Display) supporting a stereo view whichdepended on the orientation and position of the head of the person using the device. In 1971, the University of North California first discovered a prototype of force-feedback system that was referred to as GROPE. Krueger Myron in 1975 created VIDEOPLACE, an artificial reality, in which those who participated had the ability to interact with one another using techniques of processing image which in 2D screen’s space identified their respective positions.Then VCASS (Visually Coupled Airborne Systems Stimulator) was introduced by Furness Thomas in 1982 as an advanced flight stimulator. In this case, fighter pilots had HMD on to provide them with out-the-window view using graphics that described information on target or optimal flight path. A stereoscopic monochrome HMD was later made in the year 1984 at NASA Ames, and was named Virtual Visual Environment Display (VIVED).
The first VR gargets, the DataGlove, that became available for commercial purposes were manufactured in 1985, and later Eyephone in 1988 by the VPL Corporation. BOOM then emerged in 1989. This was a little box with 2 monitors whereby one could view through eye holes. The University of Carolina, during the last half of the 1980s developed various devices that could improve Virtual Reality system such as optical trackers, Pixel-Plane graphic engines and HMDs.NASA Ames developed virtual Wind Tunnel early in the 90s. Assisted by DataGlove and BOOM, this app allowed people to investigate and observe flow-fields. A system of scientific visualization and virtual reality known as CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment)was introduced in 1992. In pursuit of better resolution and quality of images viewed, the LCD-shutter glasses aid the user in viewing the wall-projected stereoscopic images created by CAVE device. Finally Augmented Reality (AR) came into existence. It was formerly applied by fighter pilots to enhance their view using supplementary flight information provided by VCASS. By superimposing virtual 3D objects on the real ones with the aid of see-through HMD, this technological feature has presented a virtual world enriching and not replacing the real world (Burdea & Coiffet, 2003).
Virtual Reality, sometimes referred to as Virtual Environments, Virtual Worlds, Artificial Reality, Synthetic Experience or Artificial Worlds, is defined as the illusion of participation in a synthetic environment rather than external observation of such an environment, relying on binaural sound, body/hand tracking and 3D stereoscopic head-tracker displays. Depending on the immersion level they provide to the operator, the VR systems are grouped into Desktop VR, Fish Tank VR and Immersive systems. The Desktop VR, also known as Window on World displays the monoscopic image of the world with the help of a conventional monitor. The improvement of the Desktop VR is the Fish Tank VR, which has enhanced the ‘being there’ feeling by supporting head tracking aided by the motion parallax effect (Steuer, 1992). Immersive systems are the final forms of VR systems which use HMD to support stereoscopic scene views depending on the orientation and positioning of the user, hence allowing them to completely immerse into computer-generated world.
Without doubts, the presence of Virtual Reality has lately changed and significantly impacted on the previous technological aspects, providing a powerful, easy and intuitive form of human-computer connection. The simulated environment can now be manipulated and watched by the user the very same way they act in actual world, with no need of learning how the whole user interface operates (Rheingold, 1991). A number of applications were since advanced relatively quicker. This VR technology is applied is numerous aspects until today.
Data and architectural visualization is one of its areas of application. Unlike desktop computers preloaded with simple interface devices and visualization packages, VR has provided not only solution to the presentation and analysis of data, but also a more in-built way of interaction. Another vital application of VR is seen in modeling, designing and planning, where it makes it possible to visualize in real-space and real-time what the modeled piece will look like, e.g. the ability of interior designers to visualize sketches of their designs before actually creating them. In education and training, VR has been applied widely too, including aircraft flight trainings by civil companies, as its application has proved safer and lower than the real flight training in terms of operating costs. Its knowledge has also enhanced how students practicing medicine train on eye operations endosurgery and leg operations. Virtual baseball coach is another example of potential usage of virtual reality in training.VR has found its place in the entertainment industry, with vendors of video games, e.g. Nintendo and SEGA now selling VR games, not forgetting the presence of cost-effective PC-based VR devices like Mattel PowerGlove, i-glasses and Insidetrak. In terms of cooperative working, VR has made it possible to create and share virtual environments which in turn have ensured the remote users collaborate with ease. Finally, teleoperating and telescoping have been assisted a big deal by virtual reality because people use VR user interfaces when operating in remote environments (Ryan, 2001).
In summary, Virtual Reality has gained an overwhelming demand and application, as it has been seen to better and simplify most of the technologies along its scope. It has tried, and somehow managed to enhance the connection of humans and computer world, users being able to not only see, but also get linked to the real world using the VR technology and devices that have, and are still getting more advanced. This means that with time, this virtual connection will increase and more reality feel will be experienced due to the increasing sophistication of virtual reality ideas and technology as a whole.
Burdea, G., & Coiffet, P. (2003). Virtual reality technology. Presence: Teleoperators and virtual environments, 12(6), 663-664.
Rheingold, H. (1991). Virtual Reality: Exploring the Brave New Technologies. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
Ryan, M. L. (2001). Narrative as virtual reality: Immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Steuer, J. (1992). Defining virtual reality: Dimensions determining telepresence. Journal of communication, 42(4), 73-93.