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Virtual Reality: Ready to Enjoy Your Five Senses?

People, when dreaming, often see things and even experience their other senses of hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting just as if they were awake. People can fly in the sky as if they were heroes in a movie, or they can visit wherever they desire to go and enjoy their time in their dream. Surprisingly, people can now experience these sorts of immersions in virtual reality, not just in their dreams. Virtual reality, which had previously stayed in the imaginative area due to the lack of technology, has now come much closer to reality. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces the promising technology of virtual reality and provides tasks it has to overcome in order to further enhance its position in society.

What Is Virtual Reality?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, virtual reality is defined as “an artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer and that is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it.” Virtual reality comprises of three factors: virtual image, immersion (which is when users accept it as a real environment), and interaction with the provided environment. When the three factors that are referred to as the “Virtual Reality Triangle” are provided sufficiently, users regard the virtual environment to be as meaningful as the real environment.

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Three-dimensional (3D) imaging is the simplest form of virtual reality, and more sophisticated efforts have been made in recent days to make virtual reality based on the five senses to be perceived as the real world. The purpose of virtual reality is to make people feel as if they were in the specific environment that is otherwise difficult to approach and enable them to manipulate the environment. As you can see in The Matrix, a science-fiction action film, a simulated reality depicts a situation in which the human population is subdued. The amazing fact is that people can now experience this simulated reality through the use of virtual reality headsets.

Virtual reality is usually implemented through the head mounted display (HMD), a display device. HMD is a kind of virtual reality headset in which stereoscopic images are displayed. It exploits the way humans perceive stereoscopic vision, which is by noting the subtle differences in depth between the images provided from each eye. HMD accordingly has two screens for each eye, and each produces images in different depths, making users feel like they are looking at three-dimensional images similar to the real world.

How Far Has Virtual Reality Come?

Virtual Reality Overcoming the Obstacles

The history of virtual reality traces back to the 1930s. Many different views regarding the beginning of virtual reality exist, but View-Master, the stereoscopic viewing system invented by William B. Gruber in 1939, is commonly mentioned as the advent of virtual reality technology. Virtual reality was used by the United States Air Force for flight simulations beginning in the 1960s. Virtual reality seems to have a long history, but the development of virtual reality technology took place at a slow pace. Its high price and lack of content have primarily held back virtual reality’s ability to join the mainstream of society. The high price of virtual reality devices has worked as the main obstacle to entering the mainstream. It is commonly said that in the consumer market for the United States, the price of TV accessories should not exceed 499 dollars. The price of many game consoles that achieved great success are indeed under 499 dollars. Considering that virtual reality devices are not necessary in our lives, the excessive price has been a negative factor, even if the product itself showed great performance.

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However, in recent days, a number of virtual reality devices have entered the market at a lower price. For instance, Google Cardboard consists of a fold-out cardboard and the user’s smartphone, which acts as a display unit. Since it replaced the display section, which had previously taken the greatest portion of the price, with the user’s smartphone, it could offer its low price of only 20 dollars.

Lack of content is considered as another factor that has made virtual reality stay in a less popular stance. In order to drive popularization of a new technology, it should not end up making people just say “wow” and move on, but it rather needs its own content that can lead people to purchase the device. It can be simply explained by the case of the 3D TV, which failed due to lack of having its own content. People watch TV not because they are attracted to the technology of the TV itself, but because it provides considerable contents from various fields involving news, movies, documentaries, and entertainment programs. However, the 3D TV failed to make people understand why they needed to make a purchase. Fortunately, many efforts these days are targeted to developing contents for virtual reality. For instance, Sixense, a corporation in the United States, released vRetail, a service that allows people to engage in shopping within a virtual environment. People can walk around the store and test products to decide what to buy through virtual reality. It shows considerable enhancement both in e-commerce and the quality of content. Virtual reality contents are rapidly being developed, especially with the creation of contents that can be enjoyed only in virtual reality.

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Oculus VR Boosts the Virtual Reality Industry

Oculus VR, an American virtual reality technology company founded by Palmer Luckey, significantly contributed to boosting the virtual reality industry. Palmer Luckey, who had created HMD alone at home, received successful funding support from Kickstarter, a public-benefit corporation, to establish the company in 2012. Along with this establishment, he announced the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, which gained popularity and sold over 60,000 products. The Oculus Rift largely expanded the field of vision, which was not a feature in previous HMDs, and it worked as a driving force to the success of the product. It has great significance in that it not only worked to improve the technology for HMD, but also contributed to the popularization of the virtual reality device. In March 2014, Facebook decided to acquire Oculus VR for $2 billion. The acquisition has been a hot issue among a number of experts since the applicable field has no end of possibilities when virtual reality technology is connected to a communication network. People are exhibiting significant interest in how the combination of Social Network Service (SNS) and virtual reality would work. What is obvious is that it will play a role in accelerating the growth of the virtual reality industry.

Where We Can Find Virtual Reality

The application of virtual reality is endless - from playing racing games to even virtual simulations. Among the infinite usage of virtual reality, the SKT will introduce three aspects in which virtual reality is utilized: gaming, therapy, and education.

The Gaming Industry

Virtual reality in the gaming industry allows users to stay in a threedimensional environment to interact with the environment during a game. Interaction takes place with a camera attached to the headset by detecting the movement of users, which is accordingly reflected in the display sector. Since the device activates based on the movement of users, it gives people vividness, making them extremely involved with it. The gaming sector is one of the most remarkable fields in the virtual reality industry. SuperData Research, a market research institute in the United States, predicts that the market size of virtual reality games in 2016 will amount to $5 billion. The most influential corporations for virtual reality, such as Oculus VR, HTC, and PlayStation, are struggling to develop virtual reality games to announce their own gaming product. They are putting hard work into making several world-famous games, including Minecraft, to be embodied in a virtual environment.

Virtual Reality Therapy

Virtual reality therapy is introduced by utilizing the function of virtual reality, which gives people a complete control over reality in contrast to the lack of control over the real environment. Treatment using virtual reality therapy covers a broad range, including treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, addiction, and many more. Virtual reality therapy in the treatment of PTSD has generally proven to be effective. In 2007, Virtual Iraq, a virtual reality system presenting a combat simulation in Iraq, was created by the University of Southern California for people who were suffering from PTSD after experiencing the Iraq War. When the user wears the goggles, a main street of Iraq appears, along with the sounds of helicopters of the US armed forces and someone reciting the Qur’an. A great explosion is soon made with the heavy smell of gunpowder. This virtual environment consequently makes an illusion that they are in a war situation. By exposing people constantly to the environment that triggered the disorder, doctors say it helps them to confront their fears and relieve the symptoms accordingly. Similarly, this method was utilized for the people who were at the scene during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Education

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Virtual reality is obviously a useful tool for education, as it provides practical experiences. In one case, Virtuali-Tee, a virtual reality T-shirt, helps children learn about the inner workings of the human body. When not used, it seems like a normal T-shirt with the inside of the body printed on the front. When it is combined with the virtual reality device, however, users can see human anatomy such as the circulatory and digestive systems just as they appear inside the human body. “First Life,” a British documentary series, is another example. The documentary was recomposed as virtual reality videos by David Attenborough, a famous documentary producer in the United Kingdom, along with Alchemy VR, a virtual reality corporation, and the National Museum of Natural History in London. By watching this video, children get into the virtual environment of the Paleozoic era, and they attain a much closer approach to the organisms at that time.

Tasks to Overcome

The virtual reality market can embrace an endless number of applications, and the scale of this industry is estimated to grow by 28.4 percent for five years until 2020. As the virtual reality device widely spreads across the nation, it seems to open a new world in which people do most of the work by using a virtual reality device. Some experts even expect that people will someday be able to form relationships in a virtual environment. However, before its popularization, some tasks still remain to be solved regarding physiological and ethical issues.

Virtual Reality Sickness

According to a recent experiment conducted by American researchers, two thirds of the participants who went through virtual reality complained of experiencing a feeling of motion sickness. This feeling of sickness is referred to as “virtual reality sickness” (also known as “cyber sickness”). It induces several symptoms of dizziness and nausea, which are similar to the symptoms of car sickness. Virtual reality sickness is primarily caused by cognitive dissonance. When a person wears the HMD and moves inside the environment, the brain recognizes that the body is moving, but the body is actually stationary, and this is where dissonance happens. The cyber sickness issue is obviously a critical task to overcome because it can deter people from using this technology. Thus, many efforts are conducted to reduce sickness during exposure to the virtual environment, and these efforts should be continued.

Real World Vs. Virtual World

After virtual reality technology becomes widespread, confusion between virtual reality and actual reality can occur. According to the report conducted by the Karolinska Institutet, people can easily experience loss of memory when they excessively use virtual reality devices, since practical experience gives considerable influence on memory abilities. Loss of memory in the real world can make it difficult for people to distinguish between the real world and the virtual one. It can simply be understood through the film Total Recall, where the main character experiences delusion that the virtual environment is reality. In order to avoid this dreary future, experts should discuss ways for maintaining the equilibrium between the real world and the virtual world.

People experience strong immersion in their dreams, but this disappears when they are awake. Virtual reality, however, is the “sustainable” dream that continues to exist, and people can even access this environment whenever they want. In order to intensify sustainability, more effort to overcome the physiological and ethical issues is necessary. Further discussion should be made about the desirable use of virtual reality, which can finally result in the bright prospect of virtual reality.

박세연  seyon1031@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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