What is Virtual Reality? [Types, Applications, Pros, and Cons]

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What is Virtual Reality? [Types, Applications, Pros, and Cons]
simrankaurarora

Simran Kaur Arora
Last updated on May 22, 2024

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience the things or situations that are not likely to happen in reality or have no existence? Earlier, it was completely impossible to experience unreal events or things. Fortunately, it is now possible with the help of VR technology to experience imagery or fictitious things, whether it is walking on Mars or driving a car on the moon.

    VR stands for Virtual Reality, which is cutting-edge technology that helps you experience the real as well as the imaginary world. In simple terms, it is a technology that creates an artificial environment consisting of objects and scenes that seem to be actual. It lets users entirely immerse into a situation they are experiencing with the help of the artificial or simulated environment created using VR.

    To explore more about VR, continue reading this article. Through this article, we will make you familiar with Virtual Reality, its origin, its types, and the technology it leverages. Also, we will walk you through the top applications, advantages, and disadvantages of VR.

    So, let us begin our discussion!

    What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

    It is a technology that leverages computer systems to create a simulated three-dimensional (3D) environment that provides experiences analogous to the real world. This technology lets people experience a world that actually does not exist with three-dimensional visuals. People get completely immersed in the artificial environment and explore the virtual world the computer systems generate.

    However, you may be wondering how this is possible? It is possible with the help of an interactive device, such as a VR headset or helmet or VR glasses. The entire display gets split between two eyes, along with stereo sound, which creates a stereographic 3D effect. This technology will give you the impression that you are physically present. In video games, for example, it makes you feel like you're one of the characters.

    VR hardware and software together enable us to experience and entirely immerse ourselves into an artificial world. The interesting thing about VR is that as you move your head, the virtual world you are experiencing also moves with you. It makes people feel like they are present in the simulated environment mentally and physically.

    Evolution of VR

    VR is not a new technology, and it has been in use for around decades. Since its inception in the 1950s, VR has still been a cutting-edge technology. In 1957, Morton Heilig created a multimedia device named Sensorama. It is considered one of the first VR systems. However, in late 1987, Jaron Lanier coined the term ‘Virtual Reality.

    Let us now discuss how VR has evolved from the year 1957 to till date.

    VR in the 50s and 60s

    • 1957: Morton Heilig was a cinematographer who first created a multimedia device that provided interactive experiences. This device consisted of a viewing screen, audio speakers, oscillating fans, and tools for emitted smells.
    • 1961: Two engineers of Philco Corporation, namely Comeau and Bryan, invented the first Head Mounted Display (HMD) named Headsight, which was the first motion-tracking device. This device comprised two screens, one for each eye, and a magnetic tracking device.
    • 1966: This year witnessed the creation of a device for the Air Force. Thomas Furness developed the flight simulator, which was later extensively used for training purposes.
    • 1968: Ivan Sutherland invented a device called ‘The Sword of Damocles’, which was the first AR/VR head-mounted display.

    VR in the 70s and 80s

    The invention in the field of VR took off in these decades, and there were major improvements in VR hardware.

    • 1978: This year made it possible for people to experience virtual travel. MIT developed the Aspen Movie Map that leverages images clicked from a car in Aspen, Colorado. This invention was named the ‘Surrogate Travel” experience.
    • 1982: VR was used to simulate a video game, where the gamers were able to immerse into the simulated environment and play a game fully.
    • 1986: Furness, who initially developed the flight simulator, further worked on this project and invented the Visually Coupled Airborne Systems Simulator (VCASS). This invention was extremely beneficial for pilots. It provided them with a virtual view required to fly the plane. Further, the Super Cockpit program was developed that leveraged 3D maps and radar imagery to help pilots make better decisions.
    • 1987: This was the year when the term ‘Virtual Reality’ was actually coined by John Lanier. He founded the Virtual Programming Lab (VPL), which was the first company to sell VR goggles.

    VR in the 90s and 2000s

    • 1991: The Virtuality Group created a series of games and arcade machines where players had to wear VR goggles and play by immersing themselves in the game. Sega enabled people to bring the same gaming experience to homes in the same year with its console.
    • 1995: Nintendo Virtual Boy then invented a small portable console capable of displaying 3D graphics. However, it went flop because of its high price.
    • 1997: Virtual Vietnam was the next invention in the field of VR created by Georgia Tech and Emory University researchers.
    • 2001: This year witnessed the invention of the first PC-based cubic room, the SAS cube.
    • 2007: Google announced Street View, which included imagery for five mapped cities by leveraging the immersive Media.

    VR 2010s and Today

    The last decade has seen advanced improvements in the world of VR. These improvements are as follows:

    • 2010: This year witnessed the invention of the Oculus Rift VR headset by Palmer Luckey. Later in 2014, Facebook bought Oculus Rift VR for approximately $3 billion.
    • 2013: The Valve corporation found an approach to display lag-free content through VR and shared it with various vendors that create VR products, including Oculus.
    • 2014: Sony launched PlayStation VR for the PlayStation 4 video game console.
    • 2015: Google then came up with the idea of Cardboard, where users have to place their mobile phones inside the cardboard and wear them on their heads. This VR solution was very cost-effective.
    • 2018: This year, Oculus came with its new invention called Half Dome, a headset with a field of vision of 140 degrees.

    Types of Virtual Reality

    Generally, there are three types of VR: non-immersive, fully-immersive, and semi-immersive. All these three types provide users with different levels of simulation. Let us discuss each of the types of VR briefly below.

    1. Non-Immersive VR

    This is the most simple type of VR. In this type, you can interact with the computer-generated environment. In addition, you can control some activities or characters within the simulated experience; however, you cannot directly interact with the artificial or computer-generated environment.

    The perfect example of non-immersive VR is any video game or computer game, like Dota 2. Video games will allow you to change activities or characters within the game and reflect the same changes in the virtual environment. Indirectly, you interact with the virtual environment with the help of one of the characters in the game.

    2. Fully-Immersive VR

    This type of VR is in contrast to non-immersive VR. In the latter one, you would not directly interact with the virtual world. Instead, you control a character that would interact with the simulated environment.

    However, fully-immersive VR lets you take a real experience of the virtual world, from sight to sound and sometimes to smell sensation. It seems like you are actually present in the virtual world, and the events or actions that take place happen in real life.

    Moreover, fully-immersive VR provides a realistic virtual experience by leveraging special devices, including VR glasses, body detectors, and gloves. They all consist of sense detectors that enable you to experience the virtual world in real-time.

    The best example of fully-immersive VR is car racing, where all the players seem like they are actually playing against each other and interacting with a simulated environment.

    3. Semi-Immersive VR

    As its name suggests, the semi-immersive VR is something that provides an experience between the fully-immersive and non-immersive VR. It only provides a visual experience, not any physical sensation, using VR glasses or a computer screen. You can just move around the computer-generated environment and cannot experience it physically.

    The perfect example of semi-immersive VR is a visual tour, which can be web-based or device-based. More specifically, the primary use of this type of VR is for training and educational purposes. The flight simulator, as discussed earlier, is one of the best examples of semi-immersive VR.

    What Technology Does Virtual Reality Leverage?

    Basically, VR requires both hardware and software to create a computer-generated, artificial world that provides realistic experiences.

    VR Hardware

    The primary hardware component is a headset, and other accessories include monitor controllers, trackers, gloves, and a mouse.

    • Headset

    A headset is a head-mounted device (HMD), such as a VR helmet or VR Google, which is a digital screen or display. It typically consists of cameras, head or eye-tracking sensors, and sound-tracking sensors.

    In general, there are three types of headsets: PC-based, standalone, and mobile.

    • PC-based: This type of headset is among the most expensive ones that provide a highly realistic and immersive experience. It consists of a dedicated display, an external camera tracker, and built-in motion sensors for a high level of realism. In addition, PC-based headsets are cable-tethered.
    • Standalone: Standalone headsets are wireless and do not require any PC or other device to create a virtual world. Instead, standalone VRs have self-contained headsets consisting of displays, processors, batteries, GPU, sensors, and more.
    • Mobile: Mobile headsets are also wireless headsets. They are capable of holding smartphones, mostly Android and iOS, inside them. As smartphones do everything, mobile headsets are relatively inexpensive. However, mobile headsets do not provide positional tracking and the simulated environment displays from only one point.

    Some other hardware accessories that improve the experience of VR are as follows:

    • 3D Mouse

    This device makes it possible for users to move in a 3D virtual environment. It is a control and pointing device that leverages several methods to control 3D movements, including multi-axis sensors, accelerometers, lights, and IR sensors.

    • Wired Gloves

    Wired gloves, also known as cyber gloves or data gloves, are accessories that users wear like gloves on their hands. A wired glove acts as an input device for computer systems that enables the interaction of humans with computers.

    Generally, wired gloves consist of various sensor technologies that capture the movement of fingers, for instance, bending of fingers. They often come with a motion tracker to keep track of the global rotational or positional data. In addition, wired gloves comprise software to interpret the movements of the glove, and gestures are used to categorize these movements into useful information.

    • Optical Trackers

    They are the systems that leverage visual information to track a user’s position. This can be achieved in a number of ways. However, the typical approach used in the VR system is using one or more video cameras to keep an eye on the user or object’s position.

    • Omnidirectional Treadmills (ODTs)

    ODTs enable users to move physically in any direction so that they can fully immerse into the virtual environment and experience something real. Unlike traditional treadmills, ODTs let you move in all directions, including backward, forward, left, and right. Instead of button presses, ODTs use your natural body movements to perform actions in the simulated environment.

    • Smelling Devices

    Smelling devices have made the VR experience even more immersive and realistic. They are the cutting-edge accessories that uplift the experience of VR. Smelling devices make it possible to add scent to any VR headset based on the actions taking place in a virtual environment.

    VR Software

    Without software, it would not have been possible to experience non-existed and unreal things or events. Developers leverage various types of software to develop VR, including training simulators, game engines, virtualization software, VR software development kit, and social platforms.

    VR software development kit (SDK) is the essential software that serves as a base for designing, building, and testing VR experiences.

    Since VR is used for a wide variety of purposes, we can categorize VR software based on these purposes as follows:

    • Training Software: This software is helpful for training employees of any field or discipline in a virtual environment.
    • Virtualization Software: This software visualizes a product, produces a virtual environment for representing the product data, and allows several users to use that information.
    • Content Management Software: Most companies use this software to collect, store, and analyze virtual content in a centralized area.
    • Collaboration Software: This software enables communication, meetings, and sharing of information among people from remote locations.
    • Game Engines: These are development frameworks that facilitate the development of VR video games.

    Applications of Virtual Reality

    VR has become a cornerstone technology for many industry verticals, from medicine and education to travel and businesses. The following are some of the top use cases of VR:

    • Training

    One of the most typical use cases of VR is in employee training. For training purposes, there is a requirement for a VR headset. More interesting, you can carry out training on-site or at home, as per the employee’s comfort level.

    Besides employee training, the application of VR is in education. VR makes it easy for students to learn any subject immersively and interestingly. Also, students can take advantage of field trips through VR.

    • Travel

    Want to experience a specific place before visiting it? Wish to experience expensive and luxurious hotels or restaurants? VR has made it possible. You can experience any place, restaurant, hotel, and landmark with guided visual tours before you plan your next vacation. When you visit that place, you will not be disappointed, as you know what it looks like or what it entails.

    • Healthcare

    VR plays a vital role in healthcare. Researchers and practitioners can benefit a lot from VR as they can pursue training in a simulated environment that seems real. Also, they can practice in that environment without being in the middle of an emergency. In addition, VR is significantly helping patients suffering from anxiety, phobia, or anorexia to work with their issues.

    • Space and Military

    Both these industry verticals involve working in dangerous environments. Therefore, it is pretty challenging to train novices in both these industries. However, with VR, people from both these industries can pursue training in an environment that closely resembles the real world. Since trainees get trained in a virtual environment, there is a minimal risk.

    • Entertainment

    It was one of the first industry verticals to leverage VR technology. Today, it is a sector that strongly relies on VR to provide people with amazing entertainment experiences. In theatres and theme parks, there is an existence of VR to simulate movie-like adventures, and people have the choice of experiencing their favorite cinematographic shows.

    Moreover, VR has completely changed the way of playing games. With VR, players can completely immerse themselves in a computer-generated environment and play as if they are the real characters of the gameplay.

    • Automotive

    VR has significantly made its place in the automotive industry. Most car manufacturers leverage VR to create a simulated environment to analyze the behavior of new cars and make the changes accordingly.

    Another use of VR in automotive is for the development of smart cars. In conjunction with artificial intelligence (AI), VR helps smart cars learn how to drive, take turns, or stop based on traffic and road conditions.

    • Architecture

    What if you build a house and you don’t like it later? Isn’t it better to experience first what your house will look like before building it? This is possible because of VR. It lets you experience what your house will look like even before construction with the help of a simulated environment.

    Also, architects can pay attention to every intricate detail at a very early stage of design. If any design is not in favor, you can immediately make changes.

    Apart from these industry verticals, there are many others that have actively adopted VR technology. These sectors include digital marketing, art, social science and psychology, fashion, and manufacturing, and the list is endless.

    Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Reality

    Let us now shed light on some remarkable advantages and disadvantages of VR.

    Advantages

    • Practical Training

    VR makes it possible and simple for people whose workplaces are hazardous to pursue the training. Pilots, doctors, aerospace engineers, and others benefit greatly from VR because it allows them to train in a virtual environment, saving them from unexpected events during training. Furthermore, VR provides an immersive experience, allowing learners to become proficient sooner.

    • Better than Reality

    There is no denying that VR provides far better experiences than reality. For example, in video games, players feel like they are in a different world. In addition, the incorporation of sound and graphics make players feel like they are actually playing the game.

    • Effective Communication

    VR has improved remote communication, allowing people to communicate effectively as if they are in the same room. The current COVID-19 has forced people to work from remote locations. However, VR has made video conferencing more effective, allowing business experts to present data in multi-dimensional models.

    Disadvantages

    Though VR has multiple advantages, it comes with some drawbacks as well.

    • High Cost

    It is not affordable for everyone to leverage VR systems since they are highly expensive. As they offer real experiences through a simulated environment generated using many hardware components and software, they tend to be costly.

    • Addiction

    As discussed above, VR offers better and more immersive experiences than reality. Many individuals may get addicted to the virtual environment, especially when it comes to video games and social media.

    • Health Issues

    The high use of VR may result in health issues, including the loss of spatial awareness, dizziness, nausea, and simulator sickness.

    • Loss of Human Connections

    When you highly rely on VR for almost everything possible, you lose your social connections.

    Conclusion

    This brings us to the end of our discussion on virtual reality. It is a cutting-edge technology with its own set of pros and cons. It has made it possible for humans to experience unreal and non-existent things through a virtual environment. Also, because VR technology is still in its initial stages, we can expect a slew of new inventions to emerge. Though it has numerous advantages, using it to a certain extent is advantageous.

    Hopefully, this blog post has provided you with sufficient information about virtual reality. Still, if you have any questions, feel free to share them in the comments section.

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    FAQs


    The following are the three different types of VR: 1. Non-Immersive VR 2. Fully-Immersive VR 3. Semi-Immersive VR

    The following are the four key elements of the VR experience: 1. Virtual World 2. Immersion 3. Sensory Feedback 4. Interactivity

    Yes, you can use the VR headset with glasses on your eyes.

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