Exploring Virtual Reality

Peyton Duplechien • 07 Sep 2012 • 4 min read

Exploring Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is the creation of an alternate, simulated world that allows people to experience the same emotions, sights, sounds, and sometimes tactile sensations as real life. The idea of simulating reality has been around for more than 70 years, predating computers. For example, military troops have for decades used simulation to fabricate and anticipate the world of war. The creation of computers, however, has made digital resources the standard anchor for virtual reality. In the last decades, advances in computer hardware and software have allowed humans to be translated into complete fantasy environments that seem entirely authentic. Now, every segment of society from academia to corporate entities to government has been researching how to leverage virtual simulation for the improvement of society.
Academic Research
Universities are often at the forefront of pioneering new ways to utilize virtual reality. Many schools have begun to offer virtual reality as a major area of matriculation. Some, like the University of Michigan and Rutgers University, have virtual reality labs dedicated to constant research and innovation. Professors often procure grants to fund virtual reality, such as the latest studies on how to use virtual reality for archaeology and business productivity.

  • University of Michigan Lab: This site links to a campus virtual reality lab and details of its archived projects.
  • Mundy’s Autism Research: This page is dedicated to UC Davis Professor Peter Mundy and his research on ways to use virtual reality to teach autistic children.
  • Rutgers University has a human-machine interface lab where research is done on virtual reality technology that can be used in therapy.
  • Virtual Reality and Pain: This University of Washington website is dedicated to research on using virtual reality to distract from the pain.
  • Bridget B. Baird, a mathematics and computer science professor who specializes in blending virtual reality with archaeology.
  • Frederick Brooks: This is the page for University of North Carolina professor Frederick Brooks, a noted virtual reality researcher. This page notes that Brooks is now researching virtual environments and has published a related article called “What’s Real About Virtual Reality.”
  • The University of East Carolina University offers a roster of virtual reality courses online for students across the country. Courses include instruction on virtual reality basics, graphics, and hardware.
  • Judy Vance, a professor of engineering at Iowa State University who also is a teaching associate at the college’s Virtual Reality Applications Center.
  • Brian Blake, a professor at Georgetown University who used his virtual reality research to develop goggles that give assembly line workers more powerful and magnified vision for catching problems during product inspections.

Technology researched, created, and distributed by corporate businesses and innovative start-ups are the bloodline for the future of virtual reality. Hardware, software, and systems that synthesize all the disparate pieces are necessary for virtual reality to become usable. Some companies specialize in creating virtual games while others hone in on virtual tour software and websites. Hardware like special goggles, headgear, and control wands manages to deliver the spectacular 3D effects for which most virtual worlds are known.

  • Cyber Town, a website,  makes traditional online forums a boring, relic of the past. This community allows users to interact with others by using three-dimensional virtual beings who have virtual houses and other virtual possessions.
  • Fifth Dimension: This is the website for Fifth Dimension Technologies, a company responsible for creating complete virtual reality systems for any purpose.
  • Aesthetic, Inc.: This is the business website for Aesthetic Solutions, Inc., which specializes in creating custom Interactive 3D virtual reality products for businesses and other consumers.
  • History, Research & More: This website is for Contact Consortium, which is a collection of more than seven companies that specialize in a range of virtual reality services, from providing history and research to crafting education products.
  • The Latest Technology Products: This Virtual Realities website showcases an array of available products, including 3D controllers, head-mounted virtual displays, and data gloves.

Government Research
Government agencies are using virtual reality in the military, space exploration, ocean management, the treatment of disease, and beyond. The U.S. Army, for example, can train soldiers in how to fire missiles and other weaponry by using simulation games and software that recreate war-like conditions. The U.S. Navy can teach its officers how to properly launch torpedoes in attack without disruptive real-life demonstrations. Government health officials are also experimenting with virtual reality to treat illnesses like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • NASA Development: This NASA website identifies research and development for virtual reality hospital services, night goggles for military pilots, and virtual flight landing equipment.
  • Army Use: This Army website notes how soldiers use virtual reality to train in weaponry use before going to war.
  • The Navy acknowledges the use of virtual reality to teach seamen how to launch torpedoes under the sea.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology lists several virtual reality software models that are used to test and improve the quality of manufactured products.
  • Ocean Administration: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses virtual reality to allow the public to tour and observe the atmosphere, marine life, and plant life in various oceans. This simulation program is called “ Nemo Explorer.”
  • The National Institute for Mental Health notes this government agency’s research on the successful use of virtual reality games to mitigate depression.

The pop culture embrace of virtual reality as evidenced by public reception to the movie “Avatar,” which used virtual reality to colonize a new planet, suggests that the general public is tantalized by the possibilities of how life as we know it can be changed by technology’s growing ability to transport humans into alternate dimensions. As researchers discover greater uses for virtual reality, its presence in society is expected to become so pervasive that ordinary citizens will be able to use it daily for a variety of tasks.