Introduction to Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment (i.e. video games) and educational purposes (i.e. medical or military training). Other, distinct types of VR style technology include augmented reality and mixed reality.

Currently standard virtual reality systems use either virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. 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 reality typically incorporates auditory and video feedback, but may also allow other types of sensory and force feedback through haptic technology.

Software:

The Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), first introduced in 1994, was intended for the development of “virtual worlds” without dependency on headsets. The Web3D consortium was subsequently founded in 1997 for the development of industry standards for web-based 3D graphics. The consortium subsequently developed X3D from the VRML framework as an archival, open-source standard for web-based distribution of VR content. WebVR is an experimental JavaScript application programming interface (API) that provides support for various virtual reality devices, such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard or OSVR, in a web browser.

Hardware:

Modern virtual reality headset displays are based on technology developed for smartphones including: gyroscopes and motion sensors for tracking head, body, and hand positions; small HD screens for stereoscopic displays; and small, lightweight and fast computer 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 360 interactive photography, 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.

To create a feeling of immersion, special output devices are needed to display virtual worlds. Well-known formats include head-mounted displays or the CAVE. In order to convey a spatial impression, two images are generated and displayed from different perspectives (stereo projection). There are different technologies available to bring the respective image to the right eye. A distinction is made between active (e.g. shutter glasses) and passive technologies.

Special input devices are required for interaction with the virtual world. These include the 3D mouse, the wired glove, motion controllers, and optical tracking sensors. Controllers typically use optical tracking systems (primarily infrared cameras) for location and navigation, so that the user can move freely without wiring. Some input devices provide the user with force feedback to the hands or other parts of the body, so that the human being can orientate himself in the three-dimensional world through haptics and sensor technology as a further sensory sensation and carry out realistic simulations. This allows for the viewer to have a sense of direction in the artificial landscape. Additional haptic feedback can be obtained from omnidirectional treadmills (with which walking in virtual space is controlled by real walking movements) and vibration gloves and suits.
Virtual reality cameras can be used to create VR photography using 360-degree panorama videos. 360-degree camera shots can be mixed with virtual elements to merge reality and fiction through special effects. VR cameras are available in various formats, with varying numbers of lenses installed in the camera.

Health and safety:

There are many health and safety considerations of virtual reality. A number of unwanted symptoms have been caused by prolonged use of virtual reality, and these may have slowed proliferation of the technology. 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. Some users may experience twitches, seizures or blackouts while using VR headsets, even if they do not have a history of epilepsy and have never had blackouts or seizures before. One in 4,000 people, or .025%, may experience these symptoms. Since these symptoms are more common among people under the age of 20, children are advised against using VR headsets. Other problems may occur in physical interactions with one’s environment. While wearing VR headsets, people quickly lose awareness of their real-world surroundings and may injure themselves by tripping over, or colliding with real-world objects.

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.

Children in virtual reality:

The relationship between virtual reality and its underage users is controversial and unexplored. In the meantime, children are becoming increasingly aware of VR, with the number in the USA having never heard of it dropping by half from Autumn 2016 (40%) to Spring 2017 (19%).

Valeriy Kondruk, CEO of VR travel platform Ascape, says the app downloads in March 2020 increased by 60% compared to December 2019 and doubled in comparison with January 2020. According to Kondruk, normally, the busiest month for VR companies is December, which is associated with winter holidays and people spending more time at home.

In early 2016, virtual reality headsets became commercially available with offers from, for example, Facebook (Oculus), HTC and Valve (Vive) Microsoft (HoloLens), and Sony (Morpheus). At the time and to this day, these brands have different age instructions for users, e.g. 12+ or 14+, this indicates a completely self-regulatory policy.

Studies show that young children, compared to adults, may respond cognitively and behaviorally to immersive VR in ways that differ from adults. VR places users directly into the media content, potentially making the experience very vivid and real for children. For example, children of 6–18 years of age reported higher levels of presence and “realness” of a virtual environment compared with adults 19–65 years of age.

The above is a brief about Virtual Reality. Watch this space for more updates on the latest trends in Technology.

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