Virtual Reality [A technology explored up...
By Krishna Kumar
| October 30th 2007 08:25 PM | Print
Virtual Reality [A technology explored up...]
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it a real or imagined one. Most current virtual reality environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic displays, but some simulations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. Some advanced, haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force feedback, in medical and gaming applications. Users can interact with a virtual environment or a virtual artifact (VA) either through the use of standard input devices such as a keyboard and mouse, or through multimodal devices such as a wired glove, the Polhemus boom arm, and omnidirectional treadmill. The simulated environment can be similar to the real world, for example, simulations for pilot or combat training, or it can differ significantly from reality, as in VR games. In practice, it is currently very difficult to create a high-fidelity virtual reality experience, due largely to technical limitations on processing power, image resolution and communication bandwidth. However, those limitations are expected to eventually be overcome as processor, imaging and data communication technologies become more powerful and cost-effective over time.
It is unclear exactly where the future of virtual reality is heading. In the short run, the graphics displayed in the HMD will soon reach a point of near realism. The audio capabilities will move into a new realm of three dimensional sound. This refers to the addition of sound channels both above and below the individual. The virtual reality application of this future technology will most likely be in the form of over ear headphones.
Within existing technological limits, sight and sound are the two senses which best lend themselves to high quality simulation. There are however attempts being currently made to simulate smell. The purpose of current research is linked to a project aimed at treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans by exposing them to combat simulations, complete with smells. Although it is often seen in the context of entertainment by popular culture, this illustrates the point that the future of VR is very much tied into therapeutic, training, and engineering demands. Given that fact, a full sensory immersion beyond basic tactile feedback, sight, sound, and smell is unlikely to be a goal in the industry. It is worth mentioning that simulating smells, while it can be done very realistically, requires costly research and development to make each odor, and the machine itself is expensive and specialized, using capsules tailor made for it. Thus far basic, and very strong smells such as burning rubber, cordite, gasoline fumes, and so-forth have been made. Something complex such as a food product or specific flower would be prohibitively expensive (see the perfume industry as an example).
In order to engage the other sense of taste, the brain must be manipulated directly. This would move virtual reality into the realm of simulated reality like the "head-plugs" used in The Matrix. Although no form of this has been seriously developed at this point, Sony has taken the first step. On April 7, 2005, Sony went public with the information that they had filed for and received a patent for the idea of the non-invasive beaming of different frequencies and patterns of ultrasonic waves directly into the brain to recreate all five senses. There has been research to show that this is possible. Sony has not conducted any tests as of yet and says that it is still only an idea.
It has long been feared that Virtual Reality will be the last invention of man, as once simulations become cheaper and more widespread, no one will ever want to leave their "perfect" fantasies. Satirists, however, have nodded towards humans' aversion to catheters and starvation.