Virtual Reality is defined by most gamers as an interactive, artificial environment experienced through sensory stimuli; and by most elders as fads that the new generation keeps wasting money on.
Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, you can’t deny that Virtual Reality (VR) is perhaps the closest that we have come to teleportation.
Commonly used interchangably with Augmented Reality (AR), VR differs in that it’s a completely immersive experience, whereas AR only allows the user to add artificially generated images to the present environment. The dog filter on Snapchat is perhaps the most distinctive example of the latter.
Modern advancements in VR owe their conception to two pioneering inventions from the 60s:
Sensorama and the Lack of Patents
The inspiration behind modern-day VR headsets has largely been attributed to the Sensorama (earlier known as “Experience Theatre”) built by Morton Heilig in 1962. A device that looked like an arcade game that might swallow users, it provided wide-angle view of 3-D images, stereo sound, body-tilting and even wind and aroma triggers. Due to lack of funding, Heilig was unable to develop his vision further.
The Sword of Damocles
The baton of developing VR further was then taken by Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull in 1968. Conducting experiments after another in Lincoln Laboratories at MIT, they were successful in creating what is considered as the first head mounted display. The system they developed displayed graphics from a computer program onto a stereoscopic display. Partly due to its weight, and partly to track head movements, the display had to be suspended from the ceiling by a metal arm, giving it the daunting nomer of the Sword of Damocles
As people slowly start to get disillusioned with existing reality, numerous VR-related products come up in the market. With almost every tech-giant wanting to invest in the immersive experience, there are at least 230 companies developing some sort of VR-related product.
Applications of these Applications
While the primary use of VR is believed to be as an exit portal to a fictitious world, there exist many real-world applications that help its case- the primary example being Medicine. VR allows surgeries to be done in a controlled, artificially simulated environment for training, minimizing the risk of errors in real surgeries.
On similar lines, it is used in driving schools, to provide learners a safe environment to practice in, reducing the risk of accidents.
Moreover, it can also be used in schools and universities to provide practical, hands-on educational experiences, where sophisticated laboratories and equipment might not be feasible.
The technology of virtual reality is a promising innovation-if not a miracle- that allows users to temporarily alter reality itself. There exist, of course, challenges and concerns on physical, cognitive and interpersonal levels associated with the use of VR, as is with every nascent technological advancement.
However, it is through trials, errors and experiments that newer, safer technologies can be unearthed. With a few innovations, these challenges will also be overcome.