Though the full potential of virtual and augmented realities have not been reached, the technology has nevertheless improved immensely in today’s day and age. What started as an attempt to experience a fantastical world has advanced into an ever expanding industry revolutionizing the world of medicine, gaming, and even learning. Before exploring the true beauty of these artificial realities, it is very important to understand what these new technologies behold. Virtual reality can be described as, the use of computer modeling and simulation that enables a person to interact with an artificial three-dimensional (3-D) visual or other sensory environment. VR applications immerse the user in a computer-generated environment that simulates reality through the use of interactive devices, which send and receive information and are worn as goggles, headsets, gloves, or bodysuits. (vrs.org.uk, History of Virtual Reality).
Although quite similar, augmented reality is referred to as “[the] process of combining or augmenting video or photographic displays by overlaying the images with useful computer-generated data” (britannica.com, Augmented Reality). In this way, both virtual platforms require very similar, advanced technology to properly function. It is important, however, to understand that virtual reality focuses on non-real, simulated experiences, whereas augmented reality works to further enhance the real world. The first concepts of these artificial realities can be traced back to 1960, though virtual reality was not given a “term to describe the field” until 1987, and augmented reality in 1990, respectively (vrs.org.uk, History of Virtual Reality). With the rapid advancements in virtual and augmented technology, it is very compelling to examine how these softwares are used in society today, and what the future has to hold.
Before examining the current day virtual and augmented technology, it is essential to understand the history and development of these artificial realities. The original “ultimate display” concept of virtual reality was created in 1965 by Ivan Sutherland. His concept was able to simulate reality and was effective to the point where the user could not tell the difference from actual reality. In 1968, Sutherland further enhanced his concept, creating the first VR/AR head mounted display known as the “Sword of Damocles” (vrs.org.uk, History of Virtual Reality). This display, being the first of its kind, had several limitations. The device was a very large contraption that was far too heavy for comfortable wear and required a ceiling suspension for proper usage. The user also had to be strapped into the device. The computer-generated graphics were very early wireframe rooms and objects, though nevertheless, the display was revolutionary and initiated further research in the artificial reality field. Within just a year from the “Sword of Damocles,” Myron Kruegere conducted a series of experiments in 1969, in which he discovered “artificial reality.” Though very different, these adaptations of artificial reality were separated in creation by only one year due to their similar use of technology. As mentioned before, the term virtual reality was later defined by Jaron Lanier, the founder of the visual programming lab in 1987 (vrs.org.uk, History of Virtual Reality). Again, just three years after, Tom Caudell coined the term “augmented reality.” With the vast interest in the unknown field of virtual and augmented reality, Sega announced their development of new VR glasses in 1993, which cost a hefty $200 and offered stereo sound and LCD screens in the visor. Soon after, Nintendo released their Virtual Boy in 1995 which functioned as a 3D gaming console and retailed for $180, though this was a large failure. Overall, from Sutherland’s ultimate display concept to the later Sega and Nintendo consoles, virtual and augmented reality have drastically improved, becoming much more portable and affordable to the everyday person.
The current day scene for both virtual and augmented realities offers a user friendly, affordable way to experience artificial reality. In particular, budget virtual reality devices such as the google cardboard retail for only $15. Similarly, the video game industry offers a wide array of virtual simulations and games. With the rapid growth in the video game industry, the development of consumer virtual reality has followed in that same growth. Some current advancements include but are not limited too: “Depth sensing cameras sensor suites, motion controllers and natural human interfaces are already a part of daily human computing tasks” (vrs.org.uk, History of Virtual Reality). Recently, large corporations such as Samsung have taken an approach to the virtual world with their “Galaxy Gear.” Other companies have devoted their work into furthering the virtual and augmented industries. The Oculus Rift, for example was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for two billion dollars. The Oculus Rift, however, will have to compete against other corporations such as Valve and HTC, Microsoft, and Sony Entertainment (vrs.org.uk, History of Virtual Reality).
Though with the success in the virtual and augmented industries, there are some major setbacks which prevent these technologies in reaching their full potential. For example, in order to run a high quality and thrilling virtual reality experience, an expensive, hefty gaming computer is necessary. This not only makes running a virtual setup very expensive, but also completely destroys the portability aspect of these technologies (theverge.com, Why the real promise of virtual reality is to change human connection). In running a virtual reality software, a strong understanding of computers and their user interface is also necessary. As a result, virtual reality is more targeted towards technology enthusiasts rather than the everyday person. In the words of Angela Chen:
I think one of the biggest problems the industry has right now is that VR is thought of purely as a gaming technology, or people see Ready Player One and write it off. For VR to be adopted, it needs to be easy to use and easy to share, it needs to be something you don’t feel weird about using, and it needs to give you something that you really want to do and that thing is almost necessarily going to have other people involved (theverge.com, Why the real promise of virtual reality is to change human connection).
In order for virtual reality to become a larger industry, it must become more portable and cost-effective, while providing a thrilling, valuable experience to all users–and not just gamers. Other issues are health-related and much more significant: ‘There are a variety of potential issues’ (cnn.com, The very real health dangers of virtual reality). For example, it is possible that the effect of virtual reality on eye growth can lead to myopia and nearsightedness.
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