Virtual Reality (VR) technology is helping us realize the impossible. User can experience anything at any place and any time. This immersive technology can induce the human brain into believing about a virtual world. Here, we look into some key aspects of virtual reality technology.
What is Virtual Reality (VR) Technology
Virtual reality is a technology that takes the users to a 3D artificial environment using a blend of interactive software and hardware. This 3D virtual environment allows the user to interact with people and objects using large images and appropriate audio devices.
It enables users to experience the information, that is immediate and dynamic. The user dons special earphones, goggles and gloves to experience the virtual reality technology. All these devices pass on their data to computer systems.
Virtual reality can be implemented to different extents ranging from desktop monitors, cell phones or completely Immersive Virtual Environments (IVE).
Fig. 1 – Virtual Reality (VR) Technology at a Glance
Components of Virtual Reality Technology
Below are some of the key elements in Virtual Reality technology
- A virtual world
- Sensory feedback
Virtual world in Virtual Reality
It is a 3D environment that is mostly realized through rendering, displays or other such mediums. It allows user interactions that mimic real world experience. Here, visual perspectives are highly responsive to movement changes.
Fig. 2 – Users experiencing a virtual world in virtual reality technology
Immersion in Virtual Reality
Immersion in a virtual environment means the perception of presence in a non physical or virtual world. A state of complete immersion is said to be present when enough human senses are stimulated to create a sensation of existing in the virtual world.
Types of Immersion in Virtual Reality
There are two types of immersion in VR:
- Mental Immersion
- Physical Immersion
A deep engagement state where our mind suspends the disbelief that we are in virtual environment.
Physical engagement demonstrated in the virtual world that makes our mind to suspend the disbelief that we are in a virtual environment.
Fig. 3 – Virtual Reality Allowing Mental and Physical Immersion of User
Sensory Feedback in Virtual Reality
Virtual-Reality puts many of our senses to play. These include visual, touch, aural and more. Sensory feedback is required for properly stimulating these senses. This is achieved through the integration of proper software and hardware components.
Head mounted displays (HMD), hand accessories, hand controls and special gloves are few examples of inputs and hardware devices.
Fig. 4 – Virtual Reality Supporting Sensory Feedback Using Hand Controls
Interactivity in Virtual Reality
Interaction is a very important factor for VR technology to function. It provides users with comfortable, natural experience in engaging with the virtual world. The virtual environment must be quick enough to respond to the users action.
This is required to maintain excitement and a mood of immersion. If the interaction is slow, then there will be no immersion and the virtual experience will fail to excite the user.
Fig. 5 – An Interactive Session Using Virtual Reality Technology
How Virtual Reality (VR) Technology Works
The primary aim of Virtual Reality is to stimulate the vision. Every VR device place one or two screens in front of users’ eyes and thus eliminates any possible real world interaction.
Two lenses that are auto focused, are placed in between the eyes and the screen. These adjust depending on the positioning and eye movement of the user. On screen visuals are rendered through HDMI cables or mobile phones.
There are certain criteria for creating a true immersive experience : a minimum 60fps frame rate, good refresh rate and a 100 degree view of the field.
Any discrepancy in these factors may lead the user to experience latency. A response time of 20milliseconds or less is required to trick our brain to believe the VR.
Cyber sickness or tearing is another cause of concern in VR technology. It results due to inconsistency between refresh rate and frame rate and will lead to distorted images.
This can be countered by limiting the frame rate to the refresh rate of monitor. Vertical Sync is the technology used in this regard.
Frame rate is the number of images processed per second by the GPU. Refresh rate is the display pace with which the images are rendered Field view refers to the degree to which head and eye movement are supported.
Types of Virtual Reality Technology
There are several types of VR technology. Each differ in their immersion levels, use cases and applications. More types are likely to emerge with improvements in technology. However, broadly we can classify VR in three basic types:
- Non immersive Virtual-Reality
- Semi immersive Virtual-Reality
- Fully immersive Virtual-Reality
Non Immersive Virtual Reality
It is virtual reality implemented at the lowest level. Here, the user’s senses are not fully stimulated and thereby allows some peripheral awareness outside the virtual world.
Users can enter these 3D environments through a window or portal. Monitors having high quality resolution and processing power are used for this purpose.
For instance, an architect might create a 3D model of a structure for clients understanding. Such models can be explored on desktop computers by mere click of the mouse. This is still VR even though it doesn’t immerse the user fully.
Semi Immersive Virtual Reality
Semi immersive environment provides for a better immersion experience where the user is only partly immersed in the virtual world. They are powered by high performance computer systems, often coupled with multiple projection systems or screen projectors.
These help in proper stimulation of users’ visuals. Semi immersive virtual resembles and uses the technologies used in flight simulation.
Fully Immersive Virtual Reality
It is the most immersive execution of the technology. Motion detecting tools and hardware like HMDs (head mounted displays) are used for stimulating all the user senses.
They deliver a realistic user experience by providing high resolutions, large viewer area, increased refresh rates and high contrast levels in HMDs.
Devices Used in Virtual Reality Technology
Below mentioned are some of the common VR devices used today.
- Head mounted displays (HMDs)
- Immersive rooms
- Data gloves
VR Using Head Mounted Displays (HMDs)
They create dynamic 3D images using built-in position sensors, stereo headphones and blackout blindfolds.
It consist of two screens, each displaying varied stereoscopic images that create a realistic perspective of a 3D virtual world. However, HMDs are quite heavy and can become tiresome to wear for longer duration.
Fig. 6 – Inside a HMD in Virtual Reality
VR Using Immersive Rooms
As an alternate to HMDs, immersive rooms are used to project changing images on to the walls of a room.
Flight simulations often use this technique where images of cities, landscapes and airports are projected on large screens that are positioned outside mock cockpits.
Fig. 7 – User Experiencing Immersive Room Technology
VR Using Data Gloves
The aim of data gloves is to allow user handling of virtual objects. These are nothing but ordinary gloves fitted with sensors that detect hand motions of the user.
Fiber optics, piezoelectric sensors and strain gauges are some of the technicalities used to create data gloves.
Fig. 8 – User Interaction in Virtual Reality Technology Using Data Gloves
Applications of Virtual Reality
Today, Virtual Reality is used in several fields. We will take some examples and understand how it is helping in those fields.
Virtual Reality in Automotive Sector
Engineers are able to experience the look and feel of a car without building multiple prototypes. Safety trials can also be conducted by imitating the outside environment.
Virtual Reality in Healthcare
Healthcare professionals are able to access virtual models of human anatomy before major surgeries.
This way, they are better prepared to face any challenges that they might encounter while operating on a real human body.
Virtual Reality in Tourism
VR provides guided tours of every place in the world. Tourists can experience and explore the grounds before buying destinations.
Hospitality firms are recreating accommodation experiences using true stimulants like aromas, wind etc.
Future of Virtual Reality Technology
Evolving technological progress has bright aspects for VR. There has been a shift of interest towards it and many organizations are investing heavily to develop and optimize this technology.
So we can say with conviction that devices supporting VR will be well designed, accessible and personalized in upcoming future.
VR is predicted to cause a major shift in the form factor of consumer electronics as well.