The meaning of virtual reality comes, generally, from the definitions of both ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. The definition of ‘virtual’ is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So the term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’. This could, of course, mean anything but it usually refers to a specific type of reality simulation.
virtual reality means simulating bits of our world or completely imaginary worlds using high-performance computers and visual equipment, like headgears and gloves. We know the real world through our senses and perception systems. In school, we all learned that we have five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. These are still only our most obvious sense organs. The truth is that humans have many more senses than this, such as a sense of balance for example. These other sensory inputs, plus some special processing of sensory information by our brains assures that we have a rich flow of information from the environment to our minds.
Everything that we know about our reality comes by way of our senses. In other words, our whole experience of reality is simply a combination of sensory information and our brains sense-making mechanisms for that information. It stands to reason then, that if you can present your senses with made-up information, your perception of reality would also change in response to it. You would be presented with a version of reality that isn’t really there, but from your perspective, it would be recognized as real. Something we would mention as a virtual reality.
From a technical point of view:
Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be traversed and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed in this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.
How does it work?
Although we talk about a few historical early forms of virtual reality elsewhere on the site, today the virtual reality is usually implemented using computer technology. There is a range of systems that are used for this purpose, such as headsets, omnidirectional treadmills, and special gloves. These are used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality.
This is more difficult than it sounds since our senses and brains are evolved to provide us with a finely synchronized and mediated experience. If anything is even a little off we can usually tell. This is where you’ll hear terms such as immersiveness and naturalness enter the conversation. These issues that divide reasonable or enjoyable virtual reality experiences from bouncing or unpleasant ones are partly technical and partly conceptual. Virtual reality technology needs to take our physiology into account. For example, the human visual field does not look like a video frame. We have (more or less) 180 degrees of vision and although you are not always consciously aware of your peripheral vision, if it were gone you’d notice. Furthermore when what your eyes and the vestibular system in your ears tell you are in conflict it can cause motion sickness. Which is what happens to some people on boats or when they read while in a vehicle.
If an implementation of virtual reality manages to get the combination of hardware, software and sensory synchronicity just right it achieves something known as a sense of presence. Where the subject really feels like they are present in that environment.
Attributes of virtual reality systems:
There are many different types of virtual reality systems but they all share the same characteristics such as the capability to allow the person to view three-dimensional images. These images appear life-sized to the person.
Plus they change as the person moves around their environment which corresponds with the change in their field of vision. The aim is for a seamless join between the person’s head and eye movements and the appropriate response, e.g. change in perception. This ensures that the virtual environment is both realistic and enjoyable.
A virtual environment should provide the appropriate responses – in real time- as the person explores their surroundings. The problems arise when there is a delay between the person’s actions and system response or latency which then disrupts their experience. The person becomes aware that they are in an artificial environment and adjusts their behavior accordingly which results in a stilted, mechanical form of interaction.
The aim is for a natural, free-flowing form of interaction which will result in a remarkable experience.There are four major types of virtual reality devices currently in use: the head-mounted display (HMD), the binocular Omni-oriented monitor (BOOM), the workstation “desktop” model (DEERING), and the projection model (CAVE).
1. Military Training
Training is obviously a substantial part of being in the military. From weaponry to survival skills to physical fitness, military personnel are some of the most highly trained on Earth, but that training comes at a cost — a big one. Military training is an extensive, expensive, and continuous engagement that involves far more personal than just the soldiers being trained.
2. Treatment of PTSD
Speaking of our servicemen and women, some of them may see combat at various points during their enlistment period — and a percentage of them will experience post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 and 20 percent of veterans serving in the second Iraq War (2001-2014) have suffered from PTSD in a given year.
Some soldiers are seeing a unique use for virtual reality here. By using VR to put themselves (safely) into a situation that triggers them, they are able to learn how to control their physiological and psychological responses.
Perhaps one of the most obvious uses for virtual reality is in education. VR lets us get deep into a subject in a way that most students wouldn’t experience unless they were heavily specialized and likely, far along in their education. But most importantly, it allows students to be actively engaged in learning — something teachers sometimes struggle within a traditional classroom.
4. Nuclear Specialist Training
In our modern world, nuclear plants are a reality and for the people who work in them, life can be dangerous. In an effort to make everyday situations safer for workers, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (makers of the first American atomic bomb), are finding a practical use for virtual reality.
5. Crime Scene Reconstruction
The American justice system is rooted in the right to a fair trial, which involves being judged by a jury of your peers. The conflict for both the prosecution and the defense is convincing the jury that their version of the facts is the “right version” — or at the very least, that the other side’s version could be wrong. Despite, each side is trying to sell their version of events — and sometimes, that gets difficult.