Virtual reality (VR) is an interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment. It incorporates mainly auditory and visual feedback, but may also allow other types of sensory feedback like haptic. This immersive environment can be similar to the real world or it can be fantastical. Augmented reality systems may also be considered a form of VR that layers virtual information over a live camera feed into a headset or through a smartphone or tablet device giving the user the ability to view three-dimensional images.
A person using virtual reality equipment is able to “look around” the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens.
“Virtual” has had the meaning of “being something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact” since the mid-1400s.The term “virtual” has been used in the computer sense of “not physically existing but made to appear by software” since 1959. In 1938, Antonin Artaud described the illusory nature of characters and objects in the theatre as “la réalité virtuelle” in a collection of essays, Le Théâtre et son double. The English translation of this book, published in 1958 as The Theater and its Double, is the earliest published use of the term “virtual reality”. The term “virtual reality” was first used in a science fiction context in The Judas Mandala, a 1982 novel by Damien Broderick.
A “cyberspace” is a networked virtual reality.
Virtual reality shares some elements with “augmented reality” (or AR). AR is a type of virtual reality technology that blends what the user sees in their real surroundings with digital content generated by computer software. The additional software-generated images with the virtual scene typically enhance how the real surroundings look in some way. Some AR systems use a camera to capture the user’s surroundings or some type of display screen which the user looks at (e.g., Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap).
Current VR technology most commonly uses virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments, sometimes in combination with physical environments or props, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment.
All modern VR displays are based on technology developed for smartphones including: gyroscopes and motion sensors for tracking head, hand, and body positions; small HD screens for stereoscopic displays; and small, lightweight and fast processors. These components led to relative affordability for independent VR developers, and lead to the 2012 Oculus Rift Kickstarter offering the first independently developed VR headset.
Independent production of VR images and video has increased by the development of omnidirectional cameras, also known as 360-degree cameras or VR cameras, that have the ability to record in all directions, although at low-resolutions or in highly compressed formats for online streaming of 360 video.In contrast, photogrammetry is increasingly used to combine several high-resolution photographs for the creation of detailed 3D objects and environments in VR applications.
View-Master, a stereoscopic visual simulator, was introduced in 1939
The exact origins of virtual reality are disputed, partly because of how difficult it has been to formulate a definition for the concept of an alternative existence. Elements of virtual reality appeared as early as the 1860s. French avant-garde playwright Antonin Artaud took the view that illusion was not distinct from reality, advocating that spectators at a play should suspend disbelief and regard the drama on stage as reality.
The first references to the more modern concept of virtual reality came from science fiction.
Morton Heilig wrote in the 1950s of an “Experience Theatre” that could encompass all the senses in an effective manner, thus drawing the viewer into the onscreen activity. He built a prototype of his vision dubbed the Sensorama in 1962, along with five short films to be displayed in it while engaging multiple senses (sight, sound, smell, and touch). Predating digital computing, the Sensorama was a mechanical device. Heilig also developed what he referred to as the “Telesphere Mask” (patented in 1960).
The VR industry mainly provided VR devices for medical, flight simulation, automobile industry design, and military training purposes from 1970 to 1990.
David Em became the first artist to produce navigable virtual worlds at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he was Artist in Residence from 1977 to 1984.
The Aspen Movie Map was created at the MIT in 1978. The program was a crude virtual simulation of Aspen, Colorado in which users could wander the streets in one of the three modes: summer, winter, and polygons.
In 1979 Eric Howlett developed the Large Expanse, Extra Perspective (LEEP) optical system. The combined system created a stereoscopic image with a field of view wide enough to create a convincing sense of space.
The original LEEP system was redesigned for the NASA Ames Research Center in 1985 for their first virtual reality installation, the VIEW (Virtual Interactive Environment Workstation) by Scott Fisher.
By the 1980s the term “virtual reality” was popularized by Jaron Lanier, one of the modern pioneers of the field. Lanier had founded the company VPL Research in 1985. VPL Research has developed several VR devices like the Data Glove, the EyePhone, and the Audio Sphere.
While the Power Glove was hard to use and not popular, at US$75, it was an early affordable VR device.
In 1991, Carolina Cruz-Neira, Daniel J. Sandin and Thomas A. DeFanti from the Electronic Visualization Laboratory created the first cubic immersive room, The Cave. Developed as Cruz-Neira’s PhD thesis, it involved a multi-projected environment, similar to the holodeck, allowing people to see their own bodies in relation to others in the room.
Between 1989-1992, Nicole Stenger created Angels, the first real-time interactive immersive movie. The interaction was facilitated with a dataglove and high-resolution goggles.
In 1992, Louis Rosenberg created the Virtual Fixtures system at the U.S. Air Force’s Armstrong Labs using a full upper-body exoskeleton, enabling a physically realistic virtual reality in 3D.
The 1990s saw the first widespread commercial releases of consumer headsets. In 1991, Sega announced the Sega VR headset for arcade games and the Mega Drive console.
By 1994, Sega released the Sega VR-1 motion simulator arcade attraction, in SegaWorld amusement arcades. It was able to track head movement and featured 3D polygon graphics in stereoscopic 3D, powered by the Sega Model 1 arcade system board.
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy console was released in 1995. Also in 1995, a group in Seattle created public demonstrations of a “CAVE-like” 270 degree immersive projection room called the Virtual Environment Theater, produced by entrepreneurs Chet Dagit and Bob Jacobs.
In 2001, SAS Cube (SAS3) became the first PC based cubic room, developed by Z-A Production (Maurice Benayoun, David Nahon), Barco, and Clarté. It was installed in Laval, France. The SAS library gave birth to Virtools VRPack.
By 2007, Google introduced Street View, a service that shows panoramic views of an increasing number of worldwide positions such as roads, indoor buildings and rural areas. It also features a stereoscopic 3D mode, introduced in 2010.
In 2010, Palmer Luckey designed the first prototype of the Oculus Rift. This 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. This initial design would later serve as a basis from which the later designs came. In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus VR for $2 billion. This purchase occurred after the first development kits ordered through Oculus’ 2012 Kickstarter had shipped in 2013 but before the shipping of their s
In 2013, Valve Corporation discovered and freely shared the breakthrough of low-persistence displays which make lag-free and smear-free display of VR content possible.econd development kits in 2014.
In 2014, Sony announced Project Morpheus (its code name for PlayStation VR), a virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 4 video game console. In 2015, HTC and Valve announced the virtual reality headset HTC Vive and controllers.
In 2015, Google announced Cardboard, a do-it-yourself stereoscopic viewer for smartphones. The user places their smartphone in the cardboard holder, which they wear on their head. Michael Naimark was appointed Google’s first-ever ‘resident artist’ in their new VR division.
By 2016 there were at least 230 companies developing VR-related products. Facebook had 400 employees focused on VR development; Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony and Samsung all had dedicated AR and VR groups. Dynamic binaural audio was common to most headsets released that year.
In 2016, HTC shipped its first units of the HTC Vive SteamVR headset. This marked the first major commercial release of sensor-based tracking, allowing for free movement of users within a defined space. In 2017, a patent filed by Sony showed they were developing a similar location tracking technology to the Vive for PlayStation VR, with the potential for the development of a wireless headset.
VR systems that include transmission of vibrations and other sensations to the user through a game controller or other devices are known as haptic systems. This tactile information is generally known as force feedback in medical, video gaming, and military training applications.
VR is most commonly used in entertainment applications such as gaming and 3D cinema. Consumer virtual reality headsets were first released by video game companies in the early-mid 1990s. Beginning in the 2010s, next-generation commercial tethered headsets were released by Oculus (Rift), HTC (Vive) and Sony (PlayStation VR), setting off a new wave of application development.
In robotics, virtual reality has been used to control robots in telepresence and telerobotic systems. The technology is useful in robotics development such as in experiments that investigate how robots—through virtual articulations—can be applied as an intuitive human interface.
In social sciences and psychology, virtual reality offers a cost-effective tool to study and replicate interactions in a controlled environment.It can be used as a form of therapeutic intervention.
With the supervision of experts to provide feedback, simulated VR surgical environment provide effective and repeatable training at a low cost, allowing trainees to recognize and amend errors as they occur.
Virtual reality has been used in rehabilitation since the 2000s. Despite numerous studies conducted, good quality evidence of its efficacy compared to other rehabilitation methods without sophisticated and expensive equipment is lacking for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Applications for VR are facilitated by technologies that go beyond the use of graphics and headsets. There are a multitude of techniques, technologies, and hardware solutions to enhance the immersive experience and derive data from the users’ responses to that experience. The use of haptic clothing, eye tracking technologies, and “Fourth Dimension” sensory stimulation are becoming especially popular and useful.
The first fine art virtual world was created in the 1970s. As the technology developed, more artistic programs were produced throughout the 1990s, including feature films. When commercially available technology became more widespread, VR festivals began to emerge in the mid-2010s. The first uses of VR in museum settings began in the 1990s, seeing a significant increase in the mid-2010s. Additionally, museums have begun making some of their content virtual reality accessible.
Immersive VR engineering systems enable engineers to see virtual prototypes prior to the availability of any physical prototypes.
Virtual reality’s growing market presents an opportunity and an alternative channel for digital marketing. It is also seen as a new platform for e-commerce, particularly in the bid to challenge traditional brick and mortar retailers. A study revealed that the majority of goods are still purchased in physical stores. For this reason, the simulated store environment made possible by VR technology has the potential to attract more consumers since it offers an almost similar experience in the physical store without the inconvenience of being there.
In fiction and popular culture
There have been many works of fiction that reference and describe forms of virtual reality.
In the 1980s and 1990s, cyberpunks viewed the technology as a potential means for social change. The recreational drug subculture praised virtual reality not only as a new art form, but as an entirely new frontier.
Concerns and challenges
Health and safety
There are many health and safety considerations of virtual reality. Most virtual reality systems come with consumer warnings, including: seizures; developmental issues in children; trip-and-fall and collision warnings; discomfort; repetitive stress injury; and interference with medical devices.
A number of unwanted symptoms have been caused by prolonged use of virtual reality, and these may have slowed proliferation of the technology. For example, in 1995, Nintendo released a gaming console known as the Virtual Boy. Worn as a headpiece and connected to a typical controller, the Virtual Boy received much criticism for its negative physical effects, including “dizziness, nausea, and headaches”. VR headsets may regularly cause eye fatigue, as does all screened technology, because people tend to blink less when watching screens, causing their eyes to become more dried out. There have been some concerns about VR headsets contributing to myopia, but although VR headsets sit close to the eyes, they may not necessarily contribute to nearsightedness if the focal length of the image being displayed is sufficiently far away. Virtual reality sickness (also known as cybersickness) occurs when a person’s exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms that are similar to motion sickness symptoms.The most common symptoms are general discomfort, headache, stomach awareness, nausea, vomiting, pallor, sweating, fatigue, drowsiness, disorientation, and apathy. These motion sickness symptoms are caused by a disconnect between what is being seen and what the rest of the body perceives. When the vestibular system, the body’s internal balancing system, does not experience the motion that it expects from visual input through the eyes, the user may experience VR sickness. This can also happen if the VR system does not have a high enough frame rate, or if there is a lag between the body’s movement and the onscreen visual reaction to it.Because approximately 25–40% of people experience some kind of VR sickness when using VR machines, companies are actively looking for ways to reduce VR sickness.
The persistent tracking required by all VR systems makes the technology particularly useful for, and vulnerable to, mass surveillance. The expansion of VR will increase the potential and reduce the costs for information gathering of personal actions, movements and responses.
In addition, there are conceptual and philosophical considerations and implications associated with the use of virtual reality. What the phrase “virtual reality” means or refers to can be ambiguous.
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