reality (VR) is a technology that allows you to enter and interact with a world
that is generated by a computer. Special graphics, video images and stereo sound
make this pretend world seem real.
uses for virtual reality are wide ranging and cover everything from games where
you can drive a car, fly a plane, ski down a mountain or track a dinosaur - to
helping train doctors in the art of surgery or teaching pilots to fly aircraft
safety. These computer generated worlds can be any size - as vast as the
universe or as microscopically small as atoms and molecules.
Of Virtual Reality
uses for virtual reality are infinite. It can be used for air traffic control,
medicine, entertainment, office work and industrial design. However, along with
the good comes the bad. Virtual reality could also be used for destructive
purposes, such as war and crime.
idea of virtual reality emerged in the 1930s when scientists created
the first fight simulator for the training of pilots. They wanted to put the
pilote in a real situation before letting him fly.
1965, an American, called Ivan Sutherland, hit on a new idea and published his
findings in a document called 'The Ultimate Display'. His idea was to create a
portable, or personal, virtual world using two tiny television sets, one for
each eye. In order to realise this, he also designed a head mounted display.
Although his invention worked, and he did create a sort of a virtual world, the
images were very crude and basic. Another problem was the helmet - it was
extremely heavy and cumbersome and needed to be supported from the ceiling. It
was also very expensive. In the following years, scientists continued to work on
Sutherland's initial idea and great improvements were made. Then in 1985,
Michael McGreevey of NASA/AMES developed a much cheaper and lighter version of
the helmet. He used a motorcycle helmet and fitted it with mini display screens,
and special sensors which were designed to track movement and were linked to
powerful, but sensitive computers.
final piece of equipment for a complete virtual reality kit was a glove. One had
been designed in the early 1980s, but modern virtual reality was born in 1986
when a computer games programmer, called Jaron Lanier, designed a new glove.
This brought the VR helmet and glove kit into existence for the first time. It
was Lanier who gave this new technology the name Virtual Reality.
of Virtual Realities
are three main forms of virtual reality:
first is perhaps the most familiar. It consists of a helmet which has small TV
screens and earphones fitted into it, and a glove (some systems use a joystick
or wand instead of a glove). The helmet and glove are linked to computers which
are programmed with special sounds and graphics.
second form of virtual reality uses video cameras to track the image of the user
in a virtual world where you can also pick up or move objects. Both these VR
systems allow more than one person to take part at the same time.
final type of VR is where three- dimensional images are played on a large,
curved screen. The shape of the screen helps to give you a greater sense of
being in the virtual world. By wearing special 3-D glasses, this effect can be
Of Virtual Reality
has a lot of positive benefits. It gives disabled people the opportunity to join
in activities not usually available to them. In virtual worlds, people in
wheelchairs, for example, can have a freedom of movement that they do not have
in the real world. At the moment very few people can afford to buy a VR system.
But as the technology advances, lightweight helmets and more powerful computers
will take VR into ordinary homes.
reality has very important uses in all types of architecture and industrial
design. Computer Aided Design, or CAD, has been an important design tool since
the mid 1970s, because it allows the user to draw three- dimensional images on a
computer screen. However, unless you have a VR helmet and glove to project the
images on to, you will not be immersed in your virtual world.
reality has been a huge boost in the aviation business as it avoids the need to
build several different prototypes (models built to the
correct size). Every time an engineer designs a new aircraft or
helicopter, a prototype has to be built to ensure that it works, whether it will
fly fast enough and whether it is safe for the crew and the passengers. If the
prototype is wrong, the designers have to go back to the drawing board, make the
changes and then build another one. This is a very expensive and time-consuming
using VR, designers can design, build and test their aircraft in a virtual
environment without having to build a real aircraft. It also allows the
designers to try out different ideas - all the ideas can be looked at in detail
and they can then select the best one. NASA has used virtual reality to design a
helicopter and Boeing have used it to design their latest aircraft.
virtual reality, doctors have already been 'inside' a body. At the University of
Carolina, USA, virtual reality allowed doctors to enter a cancer
patient's thorax (part of the chest) to make sure that radiation beams needed to
treat the cancer were in the right place. Doctors will soon be able to look at
and study tumours at first hand and in 3-D rather than from scans and x-rays.
the USA, a murderer who was executed on the electric chair donated his body to
science. His corpse was sliced into very thin sections from top to bottom and
used to create an entire virtual body for medical research. Soon all medical
students will be able to train using virtual bodies instead of real patients.
a microscopic level, virtual reality is being used in drug research. Scientists
at the University of North Carolina are able to create the molecules and then
visualize and 'feel' how they react with each other. Before the use of virtual
reality, this process was very slow and complicated. Therefore, it is likely
that virtual reality will have a strong impact on the speed with which new drugs
and remedies are developed and become available in the future.
reality is also important because it can visualize the unknown or the
unpredictable. This might lead to virtual reality operators carrying out repairs
in space, with the help of a robot. In a technique called virtual puppetry a
robot is controlled by a skilled operator and mimics all the operator's
possibilities for virtual reality are enormous. Future residents of new towns
will be able to walk around virtual streets, shops, houses and parks before a
single brick has beer laid. There are already plans to redesign the whole of the
city of Berlin, the capital of Germany, using virtual reality.
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