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Virtual Reality Today


									Running Head: VIRTUAL REALITY                               1

                      Virtual Reality: Today and Tomorrow
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                                                  2

                             Virtual Reality: Today and Tomorrow


       In a virtual space, people are not bound by the laws of gravity, subjected to limited

physical resources, or separated by distance from others. The Merriam-Webster dictionary

defines virtual reality as, "an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory

stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially

determine what happens in the environment" (Merriam-Webster, 2012). Virtually reality is a

computer-generated environment that allows us to either simulate the real world or build

alternate worlds limited by our own imaginations. Where we go with virtual reality is directly

related to how technology evolves. This paper will explore the history of virtual reality, its

current implementation, limitations, and possible uses in the future.


Morton Leonard Heilig is known as a pioneer of virtual reality. In 1957, he developed the

Sensorama which was a large device that the user sits in that resembles a 1980s arcade game

(Carlson, 2003). The Sensorama put a person in what was essentially a single person theater

where they would experience a two-minute full-color film while having them experience a

sense of motion, sound, smells, and wind in their face. Heilig would later in 1962 patent the

idea that many in the industry consider the first Head-Mounted Display (HMD) which would

have been used to view three-dimensional photographic slides. In 1968, Ivan Sutherland

created the first fully-integrated HMD which consisted of a separate monitor for each eye and

equipment to track the user's head movement. This was the beginning of technology in use

today. "Virtual Reality" is a term initially popularized in 1989 by Jaron Lanier, an expert in the

field and founder of VPL Research (Beier, 2008).
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                                                   3

       Another type of virtual reality technology appeared in 1992 and is commonly referred

to as a "CAVE", (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) (Carlson, 2003). In this concept, the

user in enclosed in a small room and graphics are projected from behind the walls. The CAVE

has the advantage over a HMD of surrounding the user by the projected images in the subjects

main field of vision as opposed to looking straight ahead at tiny monitors. Users do not wear

helmets for the experience, rather they wear lightweight stereo glasses and are free to walk

around the environment and interact with virtual objects using a wand-like device. This type of

technology has gained a strong following over the years.

       One type of virtual reality technology that was short lived was the BOOM (Binocular

Omni-Orientation Monitor). With this, screens and an optical system are housed in a box

which is attached to a multi-link arm. In the box are two holes which the user looks into to

view the virtual world. He then can guide the box into any position within the limits of the

device. The arm which holds the box has sensors attached to track the movements of the user's

head. Improved technological advancements in HMD and CAVE systems has made the BOOM

technology almost obsolete.

       All forms of virtual reality work to create the impression that the user is in a real

location by manipulating the human physiology and fooling the brain through trickery. By

attempting to create sensory input that is similar to the real world, it is possible to make it seem

as if the individual in the virtual environment is in a real place. If successful, the user may

actually have real effects such as increased heart rate or adrenaline levels. The ultimate form of

virtual reality is total immersion. According to Khosrowpour, "The vital factor of virtual

reality is immersion, the degree to which the user's senses are limited to the simulation and

screened from a real world (Khosrowpour, 1998, p. 437).
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                                                    4

       Today, virtual reality systems take on many different forms and are applicable to many

different areas. From video games such as virtual golf game where you hit a ball into a screen

that has a world famous course projected onto it, to medical visualization where an upcoming

doctor attempts a virtual surgery, virtual reality has become a very useful tool for scientists,

engineers, researchers, and companies looking to improve their designs.

       When many people think of virtual reality, they immediately think of video games. The

three major video games systems, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii, all have some

sort of virtual reality add-on with different levels of complexity. There are companies that

currently sell "force feedback devices" such as hydraulic chairs and vest you wear that you can

feel if you get hit by a video game opponent. Other popular types of video games include flight

simulators, golf simulators, racing simulators, and motion simulators which make you feel like

you are on a roller coaster, bobsled, magic carpet, or even riding a bull.

       The military uses virtual reality for training pilots in flight simulators and even treating

military personnel suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning

from a combat zone. PTSD may lead to flashbacks, social problems, and a host of other

psychological ailments. In 2004, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that

estimated about 18% of troops in Iraq were afflicted by PTSD (Hoge, 2004). Treatment for

PTSD using virtual reality consists of placing the patients in a controlled, virtual version of the

war zone they just came out of. Whether the soldier is placed in a convoy leading them to a

military compound in Fallujah, Iraq, a busy marketplace, or even onto a battlefield, the purpose

is for the patients to draw on their meditation training to regain their perspective and stay calm

during situations that would cause a highly emotional response. The patients' breathing and

heart rates are closely monitored. Dr. Dennis Wood, a therapist at the Naval Medical Center in
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                                                     5

San Diego says, "The person then can take that learning in the therapeutic environment and

transport it out or generalize it to day-to-day life" (Bergfeld, 2006).

       The use of virtual reality in the form of medical simulators is widely known. Through

their use, medical students are allowed to develop their skills more efficiently in a short period

of time without the risk to a patient. A more recent use of a virtual reality simulator is in the

dental field. The periodontal simulator allows students to learn about diagnosis and treatment

of various periodontal diseases through three-dimensional visualization of a virtual human

mouth. The technology actually allows for feeling of real tactile sensations when touching the

virtual upper and lower dental arches and other oral components such as teeth and gingiva with

virtual dental instruments (Luciano, 2009). The most popular form of this type of simulator is

the haptics-based simulator which consists of a monitor, a pair of shutter goggles, and the

haptic stylus, which is held in a similar fashion to regular dental instruments. This system

maintains a 1:1 movement ratio between the virtual instrument and the haptic stylus to allow

students to gain the fine hand dexterity which is needed when working with actual patients.

The periodontal simulator is being continuously improved by the College of Dentistry. A

recent improvement has been the ability to record and play back the student's performance for


       Another use of virtual reality that is helping society is in the treatment of chronic

subjective tinnitus. "It is estimated that ~10% of the adult population in developed countries is

affected by subjective tinnitus" (Londero, 2009). Subjective tinnitus is a condition where the

individual experiences a constant hissing or buzzing sound in their head. Many sufferers may

experience sound hypersensitivity, attention deficit, sleep disorders, anxiety, or depression.

Through the use of virtual reality, the goal is for the patient to experience immersion in a
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                                                     6

virtual environment through the manipulation of an auditory-visual tinnitus avatar to gain

control over the subjective tinnitus perception. This type of therapy can ultimately reduce the

perception of pain and discomfort that a patient feels.

       While there are many ways that virtual reality is used today, three major limitations

prevent mainstream adoption of virtual reality: technology, value, and cost. Even though there

have been huge advances in computer processing power over the years, most home computers

are simply not capable of the processing the complex algorithms and large amounts of data

quickly enough. Currently, this type of sophistication is only available to researchers in t he

field and a few others. Another factor is value. How useful would it really be to have virtual

reality in a home? Many current uses of virtual reality can take up an entire room and the

amount of applications are still limited. Finally, cost would have to be the biggest limitation

today. Even a very basic setup which consists of a heads-up display and some sort of input

device such as a haptic glove can cost over $5,000. A projection screen or monitor would set a

person back another $2,000 or more and the quality would not be as good as a typical lcd

computer monitor.

       Even though we have these limitations today, in time, virtual reality environments that

are able to simulate "real world experience", will one day be available to the general public.

Like other types of technology such as the television or cellular phone, computer parts will get

smaller and prices will get low enough that virtual reality systems will become common in

households. We should expect to see the development of virtual communities, shopping malls,

casinos, red light districts, amusement parks, and business centers. Television and video games

will be replaced by virtual reality. Virtual reality will also play a large role in the classroom

and workplace (Cline, 2005).
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     In conclusion,
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                                                    8


virtual reality. 2012. In Retrieved February 20, 2012, from

Carlson, W. (2003). A critical history of computer graphics and animation.

       Retrieved February 20, 2012, from

Beier, K. P. (2008, November 25). Virtual reality: A short introduction.

       Retrieved February 16, 2012, from

Khosrowpour, M. (1998). Effective utilization and management of emerging information

       technologies. (p. 154). Idea Group Publishing.

Cline, M. (2005). Power, madness, and Immortality: The future of virtual reality. (p. 437).

       University Village Press.

Hoge, C. (2004, July). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and

       barriers to care. The New England Journal of Medicine.

Luciano, C. (2009). Haptics-based virtual reality periodontal training simulator. Retrieved from



Bergfeld, C. (2006, July 26). A dose of virtual reality. Retrieved February 21, 2012, from


Londero, A. (2009). Auditory and visual 3D virtual reality therapy for chronic subjective

       tinnitus: theoretical framework. Retrieved February 22, 2012, from
VIRTUAL REALITY                                                  9



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