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Virtual reality 2

Virtual Reality - What it is and How it Works

Imagine being able to point into the sky and fly. Or

perhaps walk through space and connect molecules together.

These are some of the dreams that have come with the

invention of virtual reality. With the introduction of

computers, numerous applications have been enhanced or

created. The newest technology that is being tapped is that

of artificial reality, or "virtual reality" (VR). When

Morton Heilig first got a patent for his "Sensorama

Simulator" in 1962, he had no idea that 30 years later

people would still be trying to simulate reality and that

they would be doing it so effectively. Jaron Lanier first

coined the phrase "virtual reality" around 1989, and it has

stuck ever since. Unfortunately, this catchy name has

caused people to dream up incredible uses for this

technology including using it as a sort of drug. This became

evident when, among other people, Timothy Leary became

interested in VR. This has also worried some of the

researchers who are trying to create very real applications

for medical, space, physical, chemical, and entertainment

uses among other things.

In order to create this alternate reality, however, you

need to find ways to create the illusion of reality with a

piece of machinery known as the computer. This is done with

several computer-user interfaces used to simulate the

senses. Among these, are stereoscopic glasses to make the

simulated world look real, a 3D auditory display to give

depth to sound, sensor lined gloves to simulate tactile

feedback, and head-trackers to follow the orientation of the

head. Since the technology is fairly young, these

interfaces have not been perfected, making for a somewhat

cartoonish simulated reality.

Stereoscopic vision is probably the most important

feature of VR because in real life, people rely mainly on

vision to get places and do things. The eyes are

approximately 6.5 centimeters apart, and allow you to have a

full-colour, three-dimensional view of the world.

Stereoscopy, in itself, is not a very new idea, but the new

twist is trying to generate completely new images in real-

time. In 1933, Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the first

stereoscope with the same basic principle being used in

today's head-mounted displays. Presenting different views

to each eye gives the illusion of three dimensions. The

glasses that are used today work by using what is called an

"electronic shutter". The lenses of the glasses interleaveÔe inflating air bladders in a glove,

arrays of tiny pins moved by shape memory wires, and even

fingertip piezoelectric vibrotactile actuators. The latter

method uses tiny crystals that vibrate when an electric

current stimulates them. This design has not really taken

off however, but the other two methods are being more

actively researched. According to a report called "Tactile

Sensing in Humans and Robots," distortions inside the skins

cause mechanosensitive nerve terminals to respond with

electrical impulses. Each impulse is approximately 50 to

100mV in magnitude and 1 ms in duration. However, the

frequency of the impulses (up to a maximum of 500/s) dependsÔoration simulations. Such things as virtual wind

tunnels have been in development for a couple years and

could save money and energy for aerospace companies.

Medical researchers have been using VR techniques to

synthesize diagnostic images of a patient's body to do

"predictive" modeling of radiation treatment using images

created by ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, and X-

ray. A radiation therapist in a virtual would could view

and expose a tumour at any angle and then model specific

doses and configurations of radiation beams to aim at the

tumour more effectively. Since radiation destroys human

tissue easily, there is no allowance for error.

Also, doctors could use "virtual cadavers" to practice

rare operations which are tough to perform. This is an

excellent use because one could perform the operation over

and over without the worry of hurting any human life.

However, this sort of practice may have it's limitations

because of the fact that it is only a virtual world. As

well, at this time, the computer-user interfaces are not

well enough developed and it is estimated that it will take

5 to 10 years to develop this technology.

In Japan, a company called Matsushita Electric World Ltd.

is using VR to sell their products. They employ a VPL

Research head-mounted display linked to a high-powered

computer to help prospective customers design their own

kitchens. Being able to see what your kitchen will look

like before you actually refurnish could help you save from

costly mistakes in the future.

The entertainment industry stands to gain a lot from VR.Ô

Source: Essay UK -

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