Virtual Reality – The World Where Fantasies Come True
Last week, we read about Augmented Reality (AR) that involves superimposition of computer graphics over your actual surroundings. If you haven’t read it yet, we recommend you read it too to get a complete understanding about Extended Reality – click here to read the article on AR.
If you are a 90s kid or someone who lived the decade, you might remember playing or watching video games. They comprised of a box that played a small cassette which had many different games to be played using consoles. The most popular game was that of Super Mario, who had the challenge of rescuing a demon abducted princess by overcoming fire-spitting dragons, sea monsters and land beasts. No doubt, children as well as adults got completely engrossed into playing these games. While playing, we children, always wished to encounter situations like that in life where we would get a chance to prove our heroism. So, now, after a few decades, that childhood dream of ours has been fulfilled with the help of Virtual Reality (VR). Let us know what this new buzzword is all about.
The Make-Believe World of Virtual Reality
The term ‘virtual’ means something that does not exist in reality. Hence, in VR, the term represents the fact that the tech involves interaction with a ‘fake’ or ‘make-believe’ world. Virtual Reality is a world of computer-generated 3D graphics aimed at giving viewer an immersive experience of a simulated reality. This is opposed to Augmented Reality, that involves superimposition of virtual graphics over actual surroundings, so as to enhance users’ real-world experiences.
In order to provide a fake ‘real’ experience to users, VR stimulates users’ various senses. This is done through the use of audio-visual content as well as haptic simulation. Hence, VR requires a dedicated device -that could either a Head-Mounted Display (HMD) or a number of projected screens in a dark room. The latter type of VR display is called CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment). HMD and CAVE both make use of an array of sophisticated sensors that allow the computing system to gauge the position of the viewer. The system then adjusts the displayed feed in order to create a comfortable viewing experience for the user. Another use of sensors is to enable the user to participate in the virtual world by moving around, grabbing an apple, throwing a ball, etc. Thus, modern VR devices include gyroscopes, magnetometers, accelerometers and motion-sensors to determine a player’s exact position and orientation with respect to the elements in the graphic world. This is called Pose Tracking (PT). PT detects movements of players’ hand, head, etc.
The display used in VR devices may or may not be three-dimensional (3D). But it is equipped with stereoscopic characteristics that provide great picture quality when viewing from any angle.
Production of VR images or videos is possible due to the use of omnidirectional cameras. These cameras, also known as 360-degree or VR cameras, have an approximate full range of vision of 360o. To give you an idea of how comprehensive a field of view this is, human eye has a viewing angle of 135o.
Another method of creating VR content is Photogrammetry. This method involves combining of high-resolution photographs for creation of 3D objects and environments in VR applications. For example – you can find multiple videos on internet that make you feel like you are standing near Taj Mahal and looking inside of it. Though these videos do not strictly fit into the definition of VR because of lack of specialised VR devices for viewing, they use the technique of Photogrammetry in order to provide the user with an immersive experience.
Types of VR
1) Non-Immersive VR –
This type is analogous to the video games we discussed earlier. It is often not considered as ‘proper’ VR because of its ubiquity and non-immersive nature. It allows the user to interact with the virtual world within a limited degree of control. On the other hand, user is fully aware of her physical surroundings.
Due to its non-specific nature, non-immersive VR systems do not require specialized VR devices and can make do with a normal computer, a keyboard and a mouse.
2) Immersive VR –
This type exemplifies the tech that virtual reality is. It requires investment in dedicated VR devices like HMD or CAVE in order to simulate a virtual world, complete with sight, sound and tactility. The purpose behind VR glasses or devices is to provide a fully immersive experience to the user with a wide field of view along with stereoscopic 3D display.
This type of VR makes use of various aforementioned sensors in order to delegate control of the artificial environment to the user. It is different from the non-immersive VR in that the user has almost nil awareness of her physical surroundings, thus allowing complete submergence into a computer-generated world.
Application areas of fully-immersive VR are increasing by the day and have now expanded beyond the traditional realms of gaming and entertainment into education, online retail, education, etc.
3) Semi-Immersive VR –
This category of VR lies between non-immersive and fully-immersive types. It allows for a constricted experience of the virtual world. This type provides a perception of being in a different reality when users focus their attention on the display (computer monitor or VR glasses) but also allows them to remain connected with their immediate surroundings. Thus, the experience given by a semi-immersive VR can be said to be mid-way of fully immersive and non-immersive VR. Hence, users have limited freedom of operation within the virtual world. This type of VR is mainly used for hands-on training purposes for industrial workers, surgeons, etc.
Virtual Reality Applications
Post its development and commercialisation, VR devices focussed mainly on gaming and entertainment applications. But as the technology progressed, the sphere of influence of VR expanded. Today, VR is used in almost all areas such as marketing, surgery, tourism, training, et. al. Let us look at some of the case-studies where VR has improved users’ experience.
1) Marketing Campaigns – In 2016, biscuits-brand Oreo ran an innovative VR campaign that provided users with a 360o VR experience. It transported viewers into a magical land of milk rivers and life-sized biscuits in order to promote the brand’s new flavour of cupcake oreos.
2) Therapeutics – In recent times, therapists use VR apps in treatment of phobias and anxiety issues. The VR apps are particularly useful in exposure therapy where the patient has a chance of encountering the trigger behind her fear in a controlled and safe environment, under the supervision of a professional. A set of biosensors measure the patients’ heartbeats, blood pressure, etc.
3) Virtual tours – As mentioned before, you can visit a historical monument or a museum from the comforts of your home using VR goggles. Alternatively, you can also watch specific events of the bygone era unfold with all the grandeur, right before your eyes. Imagine, what a proud moment it would be if we could attend Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation ceremony atop Raigad, with the help of VR!
4) Training and Safety Drill Purposes – Perhaps, this sector has seen the most uptick in demand for VR applications, after gaming and entertainment industry. Computer-generated environments that simulate real-world situations are designed to train firefighters, soldiers, police, etc. in standard operating procedures (SOP) and rescue operations. Even students of medical surgeries and prospective vehicle drivers are trained using artificially simulated environs.
Extended Reality: The Future is Here
Augmented and Virtual Reality together form Extended Reality which was once a part of science-fiction literature. But, with the advancement in electronics and computing fields, the tech is rapidly covering ground to make its presence felt across different areas. Since the COVID-19 restrictions of 2020, VR has seen an enormous rise in demand. According to Grand View Research, the global VR market is slated to grow to 62.1 billion USD by 2027. In the post pandemic world, VR has continued its run with market analysts predicting an annual growth of 20% during the period 2020 to 2027.
With a humongous economic potential, VR, in combination with sister technologies like Artificial Intelligence, can surely turn the economic tide around for an economy. The global society can benefit a lot from VR – be it in the form of more enriched virtual experiences, increase in number of skilled jobs or enhancement in human safety at hazardous workplaces. But there is a caveat in this picture – unless there occurs a democratisation of technology and an equitable distribution of its fruits, there shall always be a danger of technology leading to or facilitating bloody revolutions. Thus, we can say that the human civilization is at a watershed moment when, henceforth the economy and society would be driven by innovation, invention and technology. It is our collective responsibility to bridge the economic schism created due to technological progress and ensure that no element of society is left behind. Only then can we create a peaceful and content global village and realise the ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is one family), as mentioned in the ancient Indian philosophical text of Maha Upanishad.
Vishvali Deo is an E&TC (Electronics and Telecommunication) Engineer by education and Software Engineer by Profession. She believes that 'Technology is a Great Democratising and Equalising Force' and hence is on a mission to make the general public understand seemingly complex technologies in a simple manner.
She is convinced that the root of today's world problems lie in the past, hence she has also pursued post-graduation in History. She has a keen interest and a good grip over Economics, Political Science and Environmental Engineering. She has a penchant for working with Women and spreading Digital Literacy amongst them, with the aim of their empowerment. She also strives to provide Free Quality Education to children and counsels young adults. Besides, she is also skilled at Public Speaking, having won many awards in Elocution & Debate Competitions and Technical Paper Presentations.