Virtuality in real world was once a dream. But not now, developers have made it real by Virtual Reality Technology
Who would have thought that one day we could generate non-realistic images, be transported into physical environments we never perceived of and all that with the help of a simple headset! Mind-boggling , isn’t it? Well, that’s what virtual reality is about – reality in a virtual world.
The Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), first introduced in 1994, was intended for the development of “virtual worlds” without dependency on headsets. Subsequently, Web3D developed X3D (another computer language) from the VRML framework as an archival, open-source standard for web-based distribution of VR content.
But, all of today’s VR advances are based on virtual reality technology developed for smartphones (they are a boon , aren’t they? ;] ) including: gyroscopes and motion sensors for tracking muscle movements ; small HD screens for stereoscopic displays(3D displays); and small, lightweight and fast processors. These components led to relative affordability for independent VR developers, and consequently 2012 Oculus Rift kickstarter offering the first independently developed VR headset.
The field of gaming technology has come a long way – until 2001 we were playing Sonic on our PS1’s and now in 2017 , in just under 7 years we have achieved phenomenal progress with headsets transporting us to a battle field , rooftop or in the middle of nowhere! So , how does it all work? Here, we unfold the basics behind VR gaming and what really happens.
How Virtual Reality technology works?
This uses small sensors attached to a data glove, suit or even the body and record movements made by that person in a 3D space. Those movements are interpreted by a computer and trigger a variety of responses within that space. So, basically A biosensor can detect and interpret your nerve and muscle activity and that is then converted by a computer into corresponding motions in VR space.
It sounds a bit technical but it is a clever way of detecting the movements of a player during a game and using these to influence what goes on in that game. This means that you, the player, become a vital part of the game also called the ‘immersive experience’- where one becomes a part of the game and literally decides what happens next. Take the example of the movie ‘The Lawnmower Man’ where the person explores the objects in the virtual world. This, was back in 1992 ! So, think about the advancements we could have been able to achieve till now?
Everything is connected via the internet today. It is essentially the middleman between technology and humans. So, why not establish its base here as well?
3D Internet can be called as the combination of Internet and 3D graphics the result of which is a combination of interactive and real time 3D graphics all delivered through the web. Sections of Internet that we use today come under the category of web 2.0 and web 3.0. The next form of Internet takes user interaction and 3D experience to a whole new level often so lively and called as it is now- Virtual Reality.
The idea behind it is that of a three dimensional internet in which you are able to explore websites in a dynamic way – Rather than clicking on a link and scanning the information on a web page you will be able to physically touch that page and manipulate it. Think of a web page as a location which you can explore at your leisure!
For eg. , Second Life is an online virtual world, similar to massively multiplayer online role-playing games . Second Life users (also called residents) create virtual representations of themselves, called avatars, and are able to interact with places, objects, and other avatars. Interesting , isn’t it?
Evolution of Virtual Reality technology:
The use of the world ‘virtual reality’ dates back to 1958 first used in the book “The Theater and its Double”. So, you see the concept has been around for decades , its just that its commercial use has been implemented in the late 21st century.
It was Morton Heilig’s ambitiousness that laid the foundation of modern VR technology. His ideology of providing a theater experience like no other led him to build a single user console in 1960 called the Sensorama that included a stereoscopic display, fans, odor emitters, stereo speakers and a moving chair. He also invented a head mounted television display designed to let a user watch television in 3-D.
It was in back in 1961 that the first HMD was developed by the Philco corporation engineers. The helmet came with a video screen and tracking system, which the engineers linked to a closed circuit camera system. Handy in dangerous situations — a user could observe a real environment remotely, adjusting the camera angle by turning his head. On similar lines, Bell laboratories built similar HMD’s to infrared cameras attached to the bottom of helicopters, which allowed pilots to have a clear field of view while flying in the dark.
It was not until 1984 when a computer scientist named Michael McGreevy experimented with Virtual Reality technology as a means to develop human–computer interface (HCI) designs. The term “Virtual Reality” was formally coined in 1987 by Jaron Lanier.
The 1990’s saw the first widespread commercial release of consumer headsets . SEGA , Nintendo, Apple all released a system of VR systems that made significant steps in the field of Virtual Reality.
But the biggest revolution came with the development of Oculus Rift – which served as the foundation of later headset designs to come. Its prototype, built on a shell of another virtual reality headset, was only capable of rotational tracking. However, it boasted a 90-degree field of vision that was previously unseen in the consumer market at the time. Oculus , later in 2013, adopted low-persistence displays ,developed by Valve, which make lag-free and smear-free display of VR content possible.
With Sony developing PlaystationVR (virtual reality headset for Playstation 4), Google and its Cardboard (a do-it-yourself stereoscopic viewer for smartphones-placed in the cardboardholder worn on the head) and HTC and Valve developing the HTC Vive , a lot of progress seems to have happened in the last decade in the field of Virtual Reality Technology.
Even a rose has thorns ; With VR technology still in the development phase , it seems inevitable for it have its share of challenges – including health, safety and privacy issues. One of the most prominent health challenges is cybersickness. Virtual Reality sickness (cybersickness) occurs when a person’s exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms that are similar to motion sickness symptoms.
A 2016 publication assessed the effects of exposure to 2D vs 3D dissection videos on nine pathology resident physicians, using self-reported physiologic symptoms. It was reported that watching the content in 3D vs 2D did not increase simulator sickness but increased chances of that happening in the future.
Not only does virtual reality technology affects health but the persistent tracking required by all VR systems makes the technology particularly useful for, and vulnerable to, mass surveillance. Another issue that comes in the limelight is limitation to biosensor suits – they must be custom made for each user or the sensors will not line up properly on the user’s body.
But, with its varied use in every other field nowadays, you cannot diss it away. There are almost 230 companies working on developing VR related products ; that itself speaks volumes about the benefits of Virtual Reality in the coming future!