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|Virtual Reality, Computer Chronicles (1992)|
Virtual Reality (VR), sometimes referred to as immersive multimedia, is a computer-simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds. Virtual reality can recreate sensory experiences, which include virtual taste, sight, smell, sound, touch, etc.
Most current virtual reality environments are primarily empirical experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or with special stereoscopic displays, and some regulated simulations include additional sensory information and emphasise real sound through speakers or headphones targeted towards witnesses. Some advanced, haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force feedback in medical, gaming and military applications. Furthermore, virtual reality covers remote communication environments which provide virtual presence of users with the concepts of telepresence and telexistence 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, and omnidirectional treadmills. The simulated environment can be similar to the real world in order to create a lifelike experience—for example, in simulations for pilot or combat training—or it differs significantly from reality, such as in VR games. In practice, it is currently very difficult to create a high-fidelity virtual reality experience, because of technical limitations on processing power, image resolution, and communication bandwidth. However, the technology's proponents hope that such limitations overcome processor, imaging, and disk communication and become more powerful with cost effectiveness over time.
Virtual reality is often used to describe a wide variety of applications commonly associated with immersive, highly visual, 3D environments. The development of CAD software, graphics hardware acceleration, head-mounted displays, datagloves, and miniaturization have helped popularize the notion. In the book The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality by Michael R. Heim, seven different concepts of virtual reality are identified: simulation, interaction, artificiality, immersion, telepresence, full-body immersion, and network communication. People often identify VR with head mounted displays and data suits.
The possibility exists to have films and television programmes which are watched with a head-mounted display and computer control of the image so that the viewer appears to be inside the scene with the action going all round. The computer presents the view which corresponds to the direction the viewer is facing, through a system of head-tracking. This would give the viewers the feeling that they are actually going to the scene in person instead of looking at pictures on a screen. The term "virtual space" has been suggested as more specific for this technology, which is described in detail in the article Virtual Space - the movies of the future.
The term "artificial reality", coined by Myron Krueger, has been in use since the 1970s; however, the origin of the term "virtual reality" can be traced back to the French playwright, poet, actor, and director Antonin Artaud. In his seminal book The Theatre and Its Double (1938), Artaud described theatre as "la réalité virtuelle", a virtual reality in which, in Erik Davis's words, "characters, objects, and images take on the phantasmagoric force of alchemy's visionary internal dramas". Artaud claimed that the "perpetual allusion to the materials and the principle of the theater found in almost all alchemical books should be understood as the expression of an identity [...] existing between the world in which the characters, images, and in a general way all that constitutes the virtual reality of the theater develops, and the purely fictitious and illusory world in which the symbols of alchemy are evolved".
The term has also been used in The Judas Mandala, a 1982 science-fiction novel by Damien Broderick, where the context of use is somewhat different from that defined above. The earliest use cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is in a 1987 article titled "Virtual reality", but the article is not about VR technology. The concept of virtual reality was popularized in mass media by movies such as Brainstorm and The Lawnmower Man. The VR research boom of the 1990s was accompanied by the non-fiction book Virtual Reality (1991) by Howard Rheingold. The book served to demystify the subject, making it more accessible to less technical researchers and enthusiasts.
Multimedia: from Wagner to Virtual Reality, edited by Randall Packer and Ken Jordan and first published in 2001, explores the term and its history from an avant-garde perspective. Philosophical implications of the concept of VR are discussed in books including Philip Zhai's Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality (1998) and Digital Sensations: Space, Identity and Embodiment in Virtual Reality (1999), written by Ken Hillis.
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There has been an increase in interest in the potential social impact of new technologies, such as virtual reality. In the book Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution, Blascovich and Bailenson review the literature on the psychology and sociology behind life in virtual reality.
In addition, Mychilo S. Cline, in his book Power, Madness, and Immortality: The Future of Virtual Reality, argues that virtual reality will lead to a number of important changes in human life and activity. He argues that:
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The use of VR in heritage and archaeology has potential in museum and visitor centre applications, but its use has been tempered by the difficulty in presenting a "quick to learn" real time experience to numerous people at any given time. Many historic reconstructions tend to be in a pre-rendered format to a shared video display, thus allowing more than one person to view a computer generated world, but limiting the interaction that full-scale VR can provide. The first use of a VR presentation in a heritage application was in 1994, when a museum visitor interpretation provided an interactive "walk-through" of a 3D reconstruction of Dudley Castle in England as it was in 1550. This consisted of a computer controlled laserdisc-based system designed by British based engineer Colin Johnson. The system was featured in a conference held by the British Museum in November 1994, and in the subsequent technical paper, Imaging the Past - Electronic Imaging and Computer Graphics in Museums and Archaeology.
Virtual reality enables heritage sites to be recreated extremely accurately, so that the recreations can be published in various media. The original sites are often inaccessible to the public, or may even no longer exist. This technology can be used to develop virtual replicas of caves, natural environment, old towns, monuments, sculptures and archaeological elements.
Many science fiction books and films have imagined characters being "trapped in virtual reality".
A comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality was published in 1935 in the short story Pygmalion's Spectacles  by Stanley G. Weinbaum. In the story, the main character, Dan Burke, meets an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who has invented a pair of goggles which enable "a movie that gives one sight and sound [...] taste, smell, and touch. [...] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it."
A more modern work to use this idea was Daniel F. Galouye's novel Simulacron-3, which was made into a German teleplay titled Welt am Draht ("World on a Wire") in 1973. Other science fiction books have promoted the idea of virtual reality as a partial, but not total, substitution for the misery of reality, or have touted it as a method for creating breathtaking virtual worlds in which one may escape from Earth.
Stanisław Lem's 1961 story "I (Profesor Corcoran)", translated in English as "Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy I", dealt with a scientist who created a number of computer-simulated people living in a virtual world that seemed completely real and physical to them, though Lem did not present any way for the characters from the "real" world of the story to experience this virtual world or interact with the simulated people. Lem further explored the implications of what he termed "phantomatics" in his nonfictional 1964 treatise Summa Technologiae. The Piers Anthony novel Killobyte follows the story of a paralyzed cop trapped in a virtual reality game by a hacker, whom he must stop to save a fellow trapped player slowly succumbing to insulin shock. This novel toys with the idea of both the potential positive therapeutic uses, such as allowing the paralyzed to experience the illusion of movement while stimulating unused muscles, as well as virtual realities' dangers. Vernor Vinge's True Names, published in 1981, imagines a virtual world which is probably the first to represent a metaverse. In the story, characters interact with each other in a complete world, where they own homes and are represented using avatars. This type of virtual world was later to be realized as Second Life, which was launched in 2003.
Other popular fictional works that use the concept of virtual reality include William Gibson's Neuromancer which defined the concept of cyberspace, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, in which he made extensive reference to the term avatar to describe one's representation in a virtual world, and Rudy Rucker's The Hacker and the Ants, in which programmer Jerzy Rugby uses VR for robot design and testing.
The first major American television series to showcase virtual reality regularly was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Several episodes featured a holodeck, a virtual reality facility that enabled its users to recreate and experience anything they wanted. One difference from current virtual reality technology, however, was that replicators, force fields, holograms, and transporters were used to actually recreate and place objects in the holodeck, rather than illusions.
British BBC2 sci-fi series Red Dwarf featured a virtual reality game titled "Better Than Life", in which the main characters had spent many years connected. Virtual reality has also been featured in other Red Dwarf episodes, including "Back to Reality", where venom from the despair squid caused the characters to believe that all of their experiences on Red Dwarf had been part of a VR simulation. Other episodes that feature virtual reality include "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", "Stoke Me a Clipper", "Blue", "Beyond a Joke", and "Back in the Red".
The Otherland series of 4 novels by Tad Williams, published from 1996-2001 and set in the 2070s, shows a world where the Internet has become accessible via virtual reality, and has become so popular and somewhat commonplace, that with the help of surgical implants people can connect directly into this future VR environment. The series tells the tale of a group of people, while investigating a mysterious illness attacking children while in this world, find themselves trapped in a virtual reality system of fantastic detail and sophistication unlike any the world has ever imagined.
The popular .hack multimedia franchise is based on a virtual reality MMORPG dubbed "The World" The French animated series Code Lyoko is based on the virtual world of Lyoko and the Internet. The virtual world is accessed by large scanners which use an atomic process, and breaks down the atoms of the person inside, digitizes them, and recreates an incarnation on Lyoko.
There is also Sword Art Online, a light novel series written by Reki Kawahara. It is set in the year 2022 at the launch of the world's first Virtual Reality MMORPG. 10,000 people become trapped in the game, and their death in the game would mean an actual "death" in real life. Another Japanese light novel series by the same author is Accel World; it is set within the same universe, but was "officially" published earlier. They both were made into anime.
A series of nine Taiwanese novels written by Yu Wo, called 1/2 Prince. It is set in a future where Virtual Reality games are very common. However, a new game appeared on the scene, boasting that the environment is 99% indistinguishable from reality. It is aptly called "Second Life", and the main character, a 19-year old college student named Feng Lan is the first to ever log in. It follows her and her friends' comical misadventures as they explore the game.
Moonlight Sculptor by Nam-Hi-Sung is a Korean light novel about the adventures of "Weed" in a virtual reality game called Royal Road.
The novel Ready Player One has a Virtual Reality system called OASIS where the main protagonist spends most of his time.
The novel Holo.Wars: The Black Hats has chambers using "holostereoscopy." This fictional technology is similar to holodecks and the danger room from the X-Men. In the book, characters immerse themselves in virtual reality and are not necessarily considered trapped in VR.
David Em was the first fine artist to create navigable virtual worlds in the 1970s. His early work was done on mainframes at Information International, Inc., Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and California Institute of Technology. Jeffrey Shaw explored the potential of VR in fine arts with early works like Legible City (1989), Virtual Museum (1991), and Golden Calf (1994). Canadian artist Char Davies created immersive VR art pieces Osmose (1995) and Ephémère (1998). Maurice Benayoun's work introduced metaphorical, philosophical or political content, combining VR, network, generation and intelligent agents, in works like Is God Flat (1994), The Tunnel under the Atlantic (1995), and World Skin (1997). Other pioneering artists working in VR have include Luc Courchesne, Rita Addison, Knowbotic Research, Rebecca Allen, Perry Hoberman, Jacki Morie, Margaret Dolinsky and Brenda Laurel. All mentioned artists are documented in the Database of Virtual Art.
The use of graphics, sound and input technology in video games can be incorporated into VR. Several Virtual Reality head mounted displays (HMD) were released for gaming during the early-mid 1990s. These included the Virtual Boy developed by Nintendo, the iGlasses developed by Virtual I-O, the Cybermaxx developed by Victormaxx and the VFX-1 developed by Forte Technologies. And then there was Virtuality (gaming) and countless number of narrow VR systems in video arcades for racing, flight, and shooter games which are still thriving in the 2010s. These arcade games only simulate certain aspects of reality and therefore simplified. Other modern examples of narrow VR for gaming include the Wii Remote, the Kinect, and the PlayStation Move/PlayStation Eye, all of which track and send motion input of the players to the game console somewhat accurately.
There is also a new high field of view VR headset system in development designed specifically for gaming called the Oculus Rift. The headset provides approximately a 110 degree field of view, absolute head orientation tracking, USB interface and with the consumer version (CV1) aimed at 1920x1080 resolution or greater (Development Kit 1 at 1280x800 and DK2 at 1920x1080). Here is the list of games with Oculus Rift support. There has also been recent development in consumer-oriented omnidirectional treadmills because of Oculus Rift such as Virtuix Omni and Cyberith Virtualizer, which can simulate the motion of walking in a stationary environment. These devices do not take up the entire room nor do they have ropes or any other bulky accessories unlike its predecessors. Other examples include technologies as simple and common as MMORPG games, where players interact in online virtual worlds by means of an avatar.
Sony announced their rival to the Oculus Rift technology as the prototype Project Morpheus at the Game Developers Conference during March 2014. It features a head mounted display with 1920x1080 resolution and a 90 degree field of view. It is accompanied by accelerometer and gyroscope sensors built into the head mounted unit and employs the Playstation Camera to track head orientation and movement, so that as the head rotates, the image of the virtual world rotates accordingly in real-time. The technology is also designed to work in conjunction with the Playstation Move and DualShock 4 controllers 
Immersive virtual musical instruments build on the trend in electronic musical instruments to develop new ways to control sound and perform music such as evidenced by conferences like NIME and aim to represent musical events and sound parameters in a virtual reality in such a way that they can be perceived not only through auditory feedback, but also visually in 3D and possibly through tactile as well as haptic feedback, allowing the development of novel interaction metaphors beyond manipulation such as prehension.
The second music video of Take On Me, a song by the Norwegian synthpop band A-ha used a pencil-sketch animation / live-action combination called rotoscoping, in which the live-action footage is traced-over frame by frame to give the characters realistic movements. Approximately 3,000 frames were rotoscoped, which took 16 weeks to complete.
The primary use of VR in a therapeutic role is its application to various forms of exposure therapy, ranging from phobia treatments to newer approaches to treating PTSD. A very basic VR simulation with simple sight and sound models has been shown to be invaluable in phobia treatment, like zoophobia, and acrophobia, as a step between basic exposure therapy such as the use of simulacra and true exposure. A much more recent application is being piloted by the U.S. Navy to use a much more complex simulation to immerse veterans suffering from PTSD in simulations of urban combat settings. Much as in phobia treatment, exposure to the subject of the trauma or fear leads to desensitization, and a significant reduction in symptoms.
Other research fields in which the use of virtual reality is being explored are physical medicine, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. In adult rehabilitation, a variety of virtual reality applications are currently being evaluated within upper and lower limb motor rehabilitation for individuals recovering from stroke or spinal cord injury. In pediatrics, the use of virtual reality is being evaluated to promote movement abilities, navigational abilities, or social skills in children with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, or other disabilities. Research evidence is emerging rapidly in the field of virtual reality for therapeutic uses. A number of recent reviews published in peer-reviewed journals have summarized the current evidence for the use of Virtual Reality within pediatric and adult rehabilitation. One such review concluded that the field is potentially promising. The new field of Virtual rehabilitation has emerged recently.
There has also been talks of letting physical therapist use VR to work with patients who are in another location. They could use multiple 3-D cameras to project a 3-D avatar of the therapist who can then guide the patient throughout the patient's exercise. Haptic devices can also be used for the doctor to feel the conditions of the patient's muscle. However, to transfer the required information to support real time interactions, is far too slow at the moment.
The usage of VR in a training perspective is to allow professionals to conduct training in a virtual environment where they can improve upon their skills without the consequence of failing the operation.
VR plays an important role in combat training for the military. It allows the recruits to train under a controlled environment where they are to respond to different types of combat situations. A fully immersive virtual reality that uses Head-mounted display (HMD), data suits, data glove, and VR weapon are used to train for combat. This setup allows the training's reset time to be cut down, and allows more repetition in a shorter amount of time. The fully immersive training environment allows the soldiers to train through a wide variety of terrains, situations and scenarios.
VR is also used in flight simulation for the Air Force where people are trained to be pilots. The simulator would sit on top of a hydraulic lift system that reacts to the user inputs and events. When the pilot steer the aircraft, the module would turn and tilt accordingly to provide haptic feedback. The flight simulator can range from a fully enclosed module to a series of computer monitors providing the pilot's point of view. The most important reasons on using simulators over learning with a real aircraft are the reduction of transference time between land training and real flight, the safety, economy and absence of pollution. By the same token, virtual driving simulations are used to train tank drivers on the basics before allowing them to operate the real vehicle. Finally, the same goes for truck driving simulators, in which Belgian firemen are for example trained to drive in a way that prevents as much damage as possible. As these drivers often have less experience than other truck drivers, virtual reality training allows them to compensate this. In the near future, similar projects are expected for all drivers of priority vehicles, including the police.
Medical personnel are able to train through VR to deal with a wider variety of injuries. An experiment was performed by sixteen surgical residents where eight of them went through laparoscopic cholecystectomy through VR training. They then came out 29% faster at gallbladder dissection than the controlled group.
To develop a real time virtual environment, a computer graphics library can be used as embedded resource coupled with a common programming language, such as C++, Perl, Java, or Python. Some of the most popular computer graphic libraries are OpenGL, Direct3D, Java 3D, and VRML, and their use are directly influenced by the system demands in terms of performance, program purpose, and hardware platform. The use of multithreading can also accelerate 3D performance and enable cluster computing with multi-user interactivity.
Virtual reality can serve to new product design, helping as an ancillary tool for engineering in manufacturing processes, new product prototypes, and simulation. Among other examples, electronic design automation, CAD, Finite Element Analysis, and computer-aided manufacturing are widely utilized programs. The use of Stereolithography and 3D printing shows how computer graphic modeling can be applied to create physical parts of real objects used in naval, aerospace, and automotive industries, which can be seen, for example, in the VR laboratory of VW in Mladá Boleslav. Beyond modeling assembly parts, 3D computer graphics techniques are currently used in the research and development of medical devices for therapies, treatments, patient monitoring, and early diagnoses of complex diseases.
3D virtual reality is becoming widely used for urban regeneration and planning and transport projects.
In 2007 development began on a virtual reality software which took design coordinate geometry used by land surveyors and civil engineers and incorporated precision spatial information created automatically by the lines and curves typically shown on subdivision plats and land surveying plans. These precise spatial areas cross referenced color and texture to an item list. The item list contained a set of controls for 3D rendering such as water reflective surface or building height. The land surface in software to create a contour map uses a digital terrain model (DTM). By 2010, prototype software was developed for the core technology to automate the process leading from design to virtualization. The first beta users in 2011 were able to press a single function and automatically drape the design or survey data over the digital terrain to create data structures that are passed into a video gaming engine to create a virtual interactive world showing massing (see picture above) of buildings in relation to man made improvements.
It was the first application where virtual reality was made effortless for Urban Planning principals using technology - video games, that most people under 40 years old are familiar with (in 2014). The software was improved to implement massing or 3D models from other free or commercially sold software to create more realistic virtual reality with very little time and effort (see the below image). The software is marketed as LandMentor and is the first precision design technology to make Urban Planning widely available with a short learning curve.
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Virtual reality technology faces a number of challenges, most of which involve motion sickness and technical matters. Users might become disoriented in a purely virtual environment, causing balance issues; computer latency might affect the simulation, providing a less-than-satisfactory end-user experience; the complicated nature of head-mounted displays and input systems such as specialized gloves and boots may require specialized training to operate, and navigating the non-virtual environment (if the user is not confined to a limited area) might prove dangerous without external sensory information.
In January 2014, Michael Abrash gave a talk on VR at Steam Dev Days. He listed all the requirements necessary to establish presence and concluded that a great VR system will be available in 2015 or soon after. While the visual aspect of VR is close to being solved, he stated that there are other areas of VR that need solutions, such as 3D audio, haptics, body tracking, and input. However, 3D audio effects exist in games and simulate the head-related transfer function of the listener (especially using headphones). Examples include Environmental Audio Extensions (EAX), DirectSound and OpenAL.
VR audio developer Varun Nair points out that from a design perspective, sound for VR is still very much an open book. Many of the game audio design principles, especially those related to FPS games, crumble in virtual reality. He encourages more sound designers to get involved in virtual reality audio to experiment and push VR audio forward.
On the current brink of Virtual Reality there is no mention of Virtual within the Virtualized World. Implementation has always stressed the excess of the actual precision of 'reality' within VR, even to the breaking point. This factoid is well discovered in the movies Existenz and the later issue at hand in The Thirteenth Floor. In Existenz, the prominent words linger forth and issue the line, "Death To Realism."
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