DEFINITION of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) refers to the computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within an artificial three-dimensional environment using special electronic devices, such as special goggles with a screen or gloves fitted with sensors. In the simulated artificial environment, the user is able to explore the various artifacts and proceedings as they might in the real world.

BREAKING DOWN Virtual Reality

The term virtual reality is built on the natural combination of two words: virtual and reality. The former means “nearly” or “conceptually,” which leads to the concept indicating an experience that is near-reality.

To understand virtual reality, let’s draw a parallel with real-world observations. We understand our surroundings through our senses and the perception mechanisms of our body. Senses include taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing, and the inputs gathered by them are processed by our brains to make interpretations. Virtual reality attempts to create an illusory environment that can be presented to our senses with artificial information, making our minds believe it is (almost) a reality.

The simplest example of VR is a three dimensional (3D) movie. Using special 3D glasses, one gets the immersive experience of being a part of the movie with on-spot presence. The leaf falling from a tree appears to float right in front of the viewer, or the shot of a speeding car going over a cliff makes the viewer feel the chasm’s depth and gives real-time experience of the fall. Essentially, the light and sound effects of a 3D movie make our vision and hearing senses believe that it’s all happening right in front of us, though nothing exists in physical reality.

Technological advances have enabled further enhancement beyond standard 3D glasses. One can now find VR headsets, a helmet-like device, to explore even more. Aided by computer systems, one can now play “real” tennis (or other sports) right in their living room by holding sensor-fitted racquets for playing within a computer-controlled game simulation. The helmet-like VR set that players wear on their eyes gives the illusion of being on a tennis court. They move and try to strike depending upon the speed and direction of the incoming ball, and strike it with the sensor-fitted racquets. The accuracy of the shot is assessed by the game-controlling computer, which follow-ups on the game accordingly—like whether the ball was hit too hard and went out of bounds or was it too soft to hit the net.

Other uses of this VR technology involve training and simulation. For example, those wanting to get a drivers license can get a first-hand experience of road driving using a VR setup that involves handling car parts like steering wheel, brake and accelerator. It offers great benefits of experience without the possibility of causing an accident, so students can develop a certain level of expertise in driving before actually hitting the road. Sellers of real estate have also used VR-aided walkthroughs of a home or apartment to give a feel for a property without actually having to travel. Other developing uses are training astronauts for space travel, exploring the intricacies of miniature objects and allowing medical students to practice surgery on computer-generated subjects.