Monday, November 19, 2018
Technology - 02 May, 2018

Virtual Reality - An Emerging Technology

There are endless possibilities in Virtual Reality. VR movies offer new vehicles for narrative structure. VR classrooms may reach students who don’t thrive behind a desk. Soon, we may have virtual meetings, conferences, classes and parties.

#virtualreality #artificialintelligence
Author : Reji Varghese

Reji M Varghese is a Post graduate Electrical Engineer from MANIT Bhopal (India) with his Under Graduate Engineering degree from NIT Rourkela (India). In Dec 2003 he established the company ADONAI. He has overall responsibility for creating, planning, implementing and integrating the strategic direction of the organization.

Abstract

Virtual Reality is a place where you forget reality and make feel whomever you can and wherever you want. By the use of technology VR makes the unreal real, that responds to our body’s movements to immerse us in a convincing alternate existence.

There are endless possibilities in Virtual Reality. VR movies offer new vehicles for narrative structure. VR classrooms may reach students who don’t thrive behind a desk. Soon, we may have virtual meetings, conferences, classes and parties. According to tech entrepreneur Philip Rosedale, who founded Second Life, “We have an insatiable appetite for communicating with each other. VR is the next medium in that regard.

Right now, the visual fidelity of these worlds remains somewhat blocky and lacks personal details: In most VR worlds, you can’t see where other people are looking, or what they’re doing with their hands. But while VR is famous for overpromising and under-delivering, Rosedale sees progress being made on these fronts — think eye-tracking sensors, or gloves that communicate gestures. Within a few years, personal VR meetups could be startlingly personal.

The future is exciting, but uncertain. VR environments — including headsets — can trigger motion sickness. And critics warn that we’re becoming increasingly isolated and risk addiction or physical harm. Champions say VR brings us together. The only certainty is that as this tech experiment evolves around us, we’re all lab rats in the least natural environment imaginable — one entirely invented by humankind.

Introduction

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer technology that 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. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to “look around” the artificial world, and with high quality VR 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.

The Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), first introduced in 1994, was intended for the development of “virtual worlds” without dependency on headsets.The Web3Dconsortium was subsequently founded in 1997 for the development of industry standards for web-based 3D graphics.

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.

Emergence of Virtual Reality – A chronological sequencing

Virtual reality has beginnings that preceded the time that the concept was coined and formalized. Now let us have a look at how technology has evolved and how key pioneers have paved the path for virtual reality as we know it today.

Panoramic paintings
If we focus more strictly on the scope of virtual reality as a means of creating the illusion that we are present somewhere we are not, then the earliest attempt at virtual reality is surely the 360-degree murals (or panoramic paintings) from the nineteenth century. These paintings were intended to fill the viewer’s entire field of vision, making them feel present at some historical event or scene.

Stereoscopic photos & viewers
In 1838 Charles Wheatstone’s research demonstrated that the brain processes the different two-dimensional images from each eye into a single object of three dimensions. Viewing two side by side stereoscopic images or photos through a stereoscope gave the user a sense of depth and immersion. The later development of the popular View-Master stereoscope (patented 1939), was used for “virtual tourism”. The design principles of the Stereoscope is used today for the popular Google Cardboard and low budget VR head mounted displays for mobile phones.

In 1929 Edward Link created the “Link trainer” (patented 1931) probably the first example of a commercial flight simulator, which was entirely electromechanical. It was controlled by motors that linked to the rudder and steering column to modify the pitch and roll. A small motor-driven device mimicked turbulence and disturbances. Such was the need for safer ways to train pilots that the US military bought six of these devices for $3500. In 2015 money this was just shy of $50 000. During World War II over 10,000 “blue box” Link Trainers were used by over 500,000 pilots for initial training and improving their skills.

1930s – Science fiction story predicted VR
In the 1930s a story by science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum (Pygmalion’s Spectacles) contains the idea of a pair of goggles that let the wearer experience a fictional world through holographics, smell, taste and touch. In hindsight, the experience Weinbaum describes for those wearing the goggles are uncannily like the modern and emerging experience of virtual reality, making him a true visionary of the field.

1950s – Morton Heilig’s Sensorama
In the mid 1950s cinematographer Morton Heilig developed the Sensorama (patented 1962) which was an arcade-style theatre cabinet that would stimulate all the senses, not just sight and sound. It featured stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans, smell generators and a vibrating chair. The Sensorama was intended to fully immerse the individual in the film. He also created six short films for his invention all of which he shot, produced and edited himself. The Sensorama films were titled, Motorcycle, Belly Dancer, Dune Buggy, helicopter, A date with Sabina and I’m a coca cola bottle!

1960 – The first VR Head Mounted Display
Morton Heilig’s next invention was the Telesphere Mask (patented 1960) and was the first example of a head-mounted display (HMD), albeit for the non-interactive film medium without any motion tracking. The headset provided stereoscopic 3D and wide vision with stereo sound.

1961 Headsight – First motion tracking HMD
In 1961, two Philco Corporation engineers (Comeau & Bryan) developed the first precursor to the HMD as we know it today – the Headsight. It incorporated a video screen for each eye and a magnetic motion tracking system, which was linked to a closed circuit camera. The Headsight was not actually developed for virtual reality applications (the term didn’t exist then), but to allow for immersive remote viewing of dangerous situations by the military. Head movements would move a remote camera, allowing the user to naturally look around the environment. Headsight was the first step in the evolution of the VR head mounted display but it lacked the integration of computer and image generation.

1968 – Sword of Damocles
In 1968 Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull created the first VR / AR head mounted display (Sword of Damocles) that was connected to a computer and not a camera. It was a large and scary looking contraption that was too heavy for any user to comfortably wear and was suspended from the ceiling (hence its name). The user would also need to be strapped into the device. The computer-generated graphics were very primitive wireframe rooms and objects.

1969 – Artificial Reality
In 1969 Myron Kruegere a virtual reality computer artist developed a series of experiences which he termed “artificial reality” in which he developed computer-generated environments that responded to the people in it. The projects named GLOWFLOW, METAPLAY, and PSYCHIC SPACE were progressions in his research which ultimately let to the development of VIDEOPLACE technology. This technology enabled people to communicate with each other in a responsive computer-generated environment despite being miles apart.

1987 – Virtual reality the name was born
Even after all of this development in virtual reality, there still wasn’t an all-encompassing term to describe the field. This all changed in 1987 when Jaron Lanier, founder of the visual programming lab (VPL), coined (or according to some popularised) the term “virtual reality”. The research area now had a name. Through his company VPL research Jaron developed a range of virtual reality gear including the Dataglove (along with Tom Zimmerman) and the EyePhone head mounted display. They were the first company to sell Virtual Reality goggles (EyePhone 1 $9400; EyePhone HRX $49,000) and gloves ($9000). A major development in the area of virtual reality haptics.

1991 – Virtuality Group Arcade Machines
We began to see virtual reality devices to which the public had access, although household ownership of cutting edge virtual reality was still far out of reach. The Virtuality Group launched a range of arcade games and machines. Players would wear a set of VR goggles and play on gaming machines with real-time (less than 50ms latency) immersive stereoscopic 3D visuals. Some units were also networked together for a multi-player gaming experience.

1992 – The Lawnmower Man
The Lawnmower Man movie introduced the concept of virtual reality to a wider audience. It was in part based on the founder of Virtual Reality Jaron Lanier and his early laboratory days. Jaron was played by Pierce Brosnan, a scientist who used virtual reality therapy on a mentally disabled patient. Real virtual reality equipment from VPL research labs was used in the film and the director Brett Leonard, admitted to drawing inspiration from companies like VPL.

1993 – SEGA announce new VR glasses
Sega announced the Sega VR headset for the Sega Genesis console in 1993 at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1993. The wrap-around prototype glasses had head tracking, stereo sound and LCD screens in the visor. Sega fully intended to release the product at a price point of about $200 at the time, or about $322 in 2015 money. However, technical development difficulties meant that the device would forever remain in the prototype phase despite having developed 4 games for this product. This was a huge flop for Sega.

1995 – Nintendo Virtual Boy
The Nintendo Virtual Boy (originally known as VR-32) was a 3D gaming console that was hyped to be the first ever portable console that could display true 3D graphics. It was first released in Japan and North America at a price of $180 but it was a commercial failure despite price drops. The reported reasons for this failure were a lack of color in graphics (games were in red and black), there was a lack of software support and it was difficult to use the console in a comfortable position. The following year they discontinued its production and sale.

1999 – The Matrix
In 1999 the Wachowski siblings’ film The Matrix hits theatres. The film features characters that are living in a fully simulated world, with many completely unaware that they do not live in the real world. Although some previous films had dabbled in depicting virtual reality, such as Tron in 1982 and Lawnmower Man in 1992, The Matrix has a major cultural impact and brought the topic of simulated reality into the mainstream.

Virtual reality in the 21st century
The first fifteen years of the 21st century has seen major, rapid advancement in the development of virtual reality. Computer technology, especially small and powerful mobile technologies, have exploded while prices are constantly driven down. The rise of smartphones with high-density displays and 3D graphics capabilities has enabled a generation of lightweight and practical virtual reality devices. The video game industry has continued to drive the development of consumer virtual reality unabated. Depth sensing cameras sensor suites, motion controllers and natural human interfaces are already a part of daily human computing tasks.

Recently companies like Google have released interim virtual reality products such as the Google Cardboard, a DIY headset that uses a smartphone to drive it. Companies like Samsung have taken this concept further with products such as the Galaxy Gear, which is mass produced and contains “smart” features such as gesture control.

Developer versions of final consumer products have also been available for a few years, so there has been a steady stream of software projects creating content for the immanent market entrance of modern virtual reality.

Applications of Virtual Reality

Many people are familiar with the term ‘virtual reality’ but are unsure about the uses of this technology. Gaming is an obvious virtual reality application as are virtual worlds but there are a whole host of uses for virtual reality – some of which are more challenging or unusual than others.

Virtual reality is one of the offshoots of mobile technology and it has impacted on human lives in so many ways. This is why virtual reality app development has become one of the most successful aspects of apps development.

There are several applications of virtual reality technology in human lives. Some of them will be discussed here. In most applications, it is used with the head mounted displays (HMD), data gloves and a tracking system that has been built in it. They are the necessary tools to be able to operate within the virtual reality environment.

Virtual reality technology holds enormous potential to change the future for a number of fields, from medicine, business, architecture to manufacturing.

Psychologists and other medical professionals are using VR to heighten traditional therapy methods and find effective solutions for treatments of PTSD, anxiety and social disorders. Doctors are employing VR to train medical students in surgery, treat patients’ pains and even help paraplegics regain body functions.

In business, a variety of industries are benefiting from VR. Carmakers are creating safer vehicles, architects are constructing stronger buildings and even travel agencies are using it to simplify vacation planning.

1. To make going to the dentist less painful.
Dentists may soon use virtual reality to distract patients and ease their anxiety and pain. A recent study tested 79 patients, outfitting one-third of them with a VR headset depicting a coastal scene, one-third with a VR cityscape and the remaining third with no VR at all. Patients who experienced the VR coastal scene reported having “significantly less pain” than those in the other two groups. The patients who experienced the VR city did not feel this way — it was the calming scenery that helped distract and soothe the patients, not just the VR itself.

2. To train employees.
Walmart is using virtual reality to train its store employees. Partnered with virtual reality startup, STRIVR, Walmart uses virtual reality technology at its training academies to help employees experience real-world scenarios. Employees can experience a holiday rush or a mess in an aisle, and learn how to effectively respond and handle these events.

3. To help paraplegics regain body functions.
A year-long study conducted by Duke University discovered huge benefits of virtual reality technology for paraplegics. Patients wearing VR headsets tasked to move through a stadium as a soccer player were able to regain some brain functions associated with moving their legs. Of the eight patients tested, each regained some control and four were upgraded from full paraplegics to partial paraplegics.

4. To treat PTSD.
Traditionally, doctors use “exposure therapy” to treat the nearly 8 million adults who suffer from PTSD a year. Exposure therapy pushes patients to recount their traumas, visualize it in their imaginations and explain to the doctor what is happening as they experience the stressful scenario.

Virtual reality essentially employs the same method, while utilizing headsets to create a virtual world with custom elements (for example, helicopters, machine guns and missiles may be used to customize the experience for a war veteran). The patient is then asked to narrate what is happening.

5. To train medical students.
Virtual reality provides medical and dental students a safe and controlled environment to practice surgeries and procedures, allowing them to make mistakes without having any impact on an actual patient, and prepare for any unexpected situations. Performing a “hands-on” procedure and being able to interact with a virtual patient lets students develop their skills, which they can later apply to the real world.

6. To treat pain.
Doctors are using “distraction therapy” through virtual reality to help people handle pain while they undergo treatments such as physical therapy. A 2011 study on military burn victims revealed that SnowWorld — a VR game that allows users to throw snowballs at penguins while listening to Paul Simon — has proven more effective than morphine in pain management. U.K. researchers in 2017 tested VR on patients undergoing dental treatments and found its use simulating a coastal scene reduced both experienced and recollected pain compared with no VR. The VR was less effective when portraying an ubran scene, however.

7. To treat anxiety attacks.
Anxiety is becoming a serious concern among both young and adult all over the globe. The virtual reality game Deep — “a digital version of a diaphragmatic exercise” — looks to help those individuals deal with fear and anxiety with the use of a belt that monitors breathing. The game puts the user into a natural setting and guides them through deep belly breathing exercises — calming users in about five minutes.

8. To help children and teens with autism develop social skills.
Professors at the University of Texas in Dallas have created a program that uses virtual reality to help children with autism develop social skills. Putting kids, teens and young adults in social scenarios such as job interviews or blind dates with avatars, they learn how to pick up on social cues and respond appropriately. By monitoring brain waves throughout the program, professors noticed increased activity in areas connected to social understanding.

9. To help in business.
Businesses are beginning to employ VR in a number of ways: to reduce costs, lessen business travel, conduct interviews, give tours, forecast trends and hold meetings. Rather than traveling for a conference or meeting, or interviewing a candidate “face to face,” companies are using virtual conference rooms. Businesses that have dangerous products or are in the early stages are using VR to test safety and functionality without risking the health of employees.

10. To better model architects’ designs.
Virtual reality will benefit key players in the construction space such as architects and designers. The tool allows a user to virtually inhabit spaces in three dimensions. Computer-generated images will replace hand-drawn renderings — ultimately reducing time spent reworking layouts and drawings, effectively reducing costs and increasing safety. Simulating the real world will not only allow designers to more easily create buildings and spaces — from lighting to flooring to foundations — but it will also let designers test out environments before actually building them. For example, they can realistically understand how quickly someone is able to exit the building in the case of an emergency.

11. To test car safety and drive sales.
VR gives cars engineers the ability to test the safety of vehicles in a virtual setting before actually manufacturing them. Aside from the building process, large car companies such as Ford, Volvo and Hyundai use virtual reality in sales as well by having potential customers use a VR headset to test drive vehicles.

12. To plan your next vacation.
You’ll soon be able to “try before you fly” destinations through virtual reality. Travelers looking to book their next trip can observe a destination, hotel or city to see what it has to offer. For example, patrons in a U.K. mall were able to experience a helicopter flight around New York City or a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty.

Concerns and challenges

Virtual reality technology faces a number of challenges, including health and safety, privacy and technical issues. Long-term effects of virtual reality on vision and neurological development are unknown; users might become disoriented in a purely virtual environment, causing balance issues; computer latency might affect the simulation, providing a less-than-satisfactory end-user experience; navigating the non-virtual environment (if the user is not confined to a limited area) might prove dangerous without external sensory information. There have been rising concerns that with the advent of virtual reality, some users may experience virtual reality addiction. From an economic and financial perspective, early entrants to the virtual reality market may spend a significant amount of time and money on the technology. If it is not adopted by enough customers, the investment will not pay off.

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.

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. Mychilo S. Cline argued in 2005 that through virtual reality techniques will be developed to influence human behavior, interpersonal communication, and cognition. In the book The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality by Michael R. Heim, seven different concepts of virtual reality are identified: simulation, interaction, artificiality, immersion, telepresence, full-body immersion, and network communication. As we spend more and more time in virtual space, there could be a gradual “migration to virtual space”, resulting in important changes in economics, worldview, and culture. Philosophical implications of VR are discussed in books, including Philip Zhai’s Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality (1998) and Digital Sensations: Space, Identity and Embodiment in Virtual Reality (1999), written by Ken Hillis.