You may have come across the phrase either in gaming forums of in science fiction, but exactly what is meant by virtual reality, what is it, and does it present us with any possible benefits or advantages in the future?
This phrase can be answered by either simply looking at the technology currently used, and understanding the basics of how it works, and what it tries to achieve. The more complex way of looking at this concept is by firstly asking what we understand by the word reality, before we try understanding the idea of an alternate, virtual version of reality.
Basically, if we understand the idea of reality to be the sum of all of the sensory inputs our brain receives, virtual reality is the use of technology to replace as many of those sensory inputs as possible with computer generated ones, to fool the brain into believing in a world which is false, and which only exists within the brain of the computer.
The most common form of virtual reality is one where the user wears a visor which wraps entirely round their normal field of vision. The computer then projects or displays a visual three dimensional world onto the inside f this visor, entirely replacing what the user would normally see with a computer generated view. The clever part of this is that the visor has a number of motion sensors built in to it, so that if the user turns their head, tilts their head, or moves their body entirely, the display inside the projector will move to match the user’s movement, creating the illusion of the user actually moving around within this three dimensional world of the computer’s.
Taking this idea further, the world may contain a number of objects, such as furniture, doors, objects that can be picked up and examined. By wearing special gloves which have a whole range of sensors built in to them, the computer can track the position, movement and actions of the user’s hands, and work out whether they would be touching anything, and if so, how the objects would react. Would they be being picked up, turned, knocked over and so forth?
By adding audio as well, the user can be very immersed within this world, and with advancing technologies making greater and more realistic computer generated scenes, the user can very easily start to believe in this virtual world, or reality.
One way in which this technology is an exciting area for development is within computer and video games, and already we are starting to see early developments of this with basic visors, and hand controls which are motion sensitive. Eventually we may well all find ourselves entering an alternative reality in which to play our games, which would make chase scenes, fights and cliff top adventures even more breath taking!