Virtual Reality: The Future of Tomorrow
Although some doubt the potential of virtual reality, the reality is our technologically dependent culture is making virtual reality a part of everyday life. Popular in video games, virtual reality allows the user to totally control a computerized character. Every action the user makes is imitated by the character and instantly displayed for the user. However, since the early 90’s, the use of virtual reality has developed and taken the spotlight past evolving video games. Virtual reality has already made its mark on fields such as aviation, medicine, and even meteorology. Where is this new technology heading in the future? According to the Millennium edition of the Wall Street Journal, “even conservative forecasts suggest education, entertainment, the workplace and the boundaries of human expression will be greatly transformed by virtual reality” (Cox 40). Increasingly advanced technology could put virtual reality in the driver’s seat of countless industries.
In recent years virtual reality has already been involved in several technological areas. Even those who have little knowledge about the production of virtual reality are most likely aware of its use in video games. However, many people may not be aware of the numerous other areas where it has been applied. For example, astronaut trainees have recently used virtual reality to simulate a trip to space. Medical students have substituted a carcass for a fiberglass mould of a body and a headset when training to perform surgery. A popular online chat is developing into a society of interactive, animated users. Introducing virtual reality to the real world has already proven to be beneficial for every industry it encounters. Welcome to the new world of virtual technology, the advantages have only begun.
Virtual reality (VR), as defined by The Newbury House Dictionary of American English, is experiencing events that seem like real life by putting on special eye glasses, hearing devices ad gloves attached to a computer. With the help of these hardware devices, the VR user’s actions totally control of the computer’s resulting actions. This control sets virtual reality apart from previously developed technologies. Because of the amazingly fast processing speed of the computer, VR accepts the user’s every move and displays the differences in the virtual environment.
When electronic media originated, people were not only amazed, but also already easily influenced and persuaded by the entertainment. For example, on Oct. 30, 1938, Orson Welles’s radio enactment of “The War of the Worlds, had some people believing that a real alien invasion was occurring. In similarity, television and the movies of today have the ability to brainwash people immensely. Next came the computer generation with countless ways to drown people in the entertainment computers provide. Electronic games, along with the Internet, are probably the greatest contributors to keeping people indoors, and what some consider as lifeless. The greatest impersonator of the real world is virtual reality. Virtual reality can place the user anywhere doing anything imaginable. Want to take a mission to the moon? You can with virtual reality. Don’t believe it? With virtual reality, people are already on their way up.
Perhaps the only aspect of virtual reality that isn’t on its way up is the price. Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist who established the term “virtual reality” in the early 1980’s. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lanier expressed that:
…good virtual reality equipment remains very expensive and that the software tools required to create the virtual-reality environments remain crude and difficult to use. As with all types of information technology, the costs are dropping fast and the quality keeps improving. But for now, only a select few have experienced what will one day become a commonplace use of virtual reality. (Cox 40)
Since the price of virtual reality continues to drop, perhaps the future will inhabit virtual reality in nearly every technological situation. Regardless, one thing is for sure: virtual reality is changing the way we see things.
Those who view virtual reality as a benefit to our society, base their opinion on its success throughout numerous fields of study. However, the issue is not whether or not virtual reality works, but if it is truly beneficial. Not only could virtual reality become a great advantage when included in technological fields, but also when introduced into everyday life. Combining virtual reality with every day activity could prove to be the most beneficial technological advancement in time.
As time advances so does our society’s knowledge in the field of medicine. Virtual reality can effectively simulate medical surgeries and emergencies, to productively train those studying the medical field. In former surgical training, trainees used the bodies of donated corpses to practice surgical techniques and precision. Recently, invasive surgery, brain surgery, and “telepresence surgery” have all been virtually recreated with advanced technology. Telepresence surgery uses a system, which allows a surgeon to operate on a patient at any location. According to the April 23, 1994 issue of the British Medical Journal, telepresence surgery could “…enable specialized surgeons to operate on patients [from] a distance” (McGovern 2). This would be a very beneficial addition to the surgical field. For example, a patient could request a specific surgeon to perform surgery on them from anywhere in the world. This would be necessary if the surgery was unusual and a surgeon specialist isn’t available nearby.
The critical training of astronauts is also being adjusted. With virtual reality, astronaut trainees can experience the feel of space without the danger of the actual thing. Large vacuum domes, or closed areas without oxygen, were popular for understanding the feel of non-gravitational space. Although this practice is effective, the use of virtual reality has proven to be more beneficial while training for space.
Jim Newman has accumulated 779 hours of space travel and 28 hours of space walking throughout his missions onboard the U.S. space shuttle. Newman associated with virtual reality by wearing a helmet, sensor gloves, and shoulder harnesses that measured and responded to his every move. “The odd, local gravitational effects of rotating in space, [Newman says], make it all but impossible to practice these maneuvers except by using virtual reality” (Cox 40). The virtual training precisely imitated the great fear of becoming disconnected from the tether while walking in space. In order to effectively train for space, the astronaut must be given the same environment that space provides. Virtual reality is a benefit to space training because any environment can be readily created and explored by the user. NASA in return is making VR more affordable and opening the equipment to large numbers of people.
Most everyone would like to have a more accurate weather forecast, especially when dangerous weather is involved. Virtual reality allows scientists to get an inside look at dangerous weather and obtain a better understanding of the ingredients necessary to generate a storm. With this knowledge, scientists can educate forecasters allowing them to make better predictions on the occurrence of threatening storms. These accurate predictions will allow people to better prepare for threatening weather and remain safe from unexpected catastrophes.
According to an article found in the Dec. 1997 issue of the magazine Earth, a video theater, used to display the virtual reality simulations, exists on the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This theater (“CAVE”) will increase the scientists understanding of a severe storm by virtually placing them in the middle of it. Inside the virtual simulation, the user stands in a dark room, surrounded on three sides by white fabric screens. Numerous video projectors, outside the cave, place images on the screens to be seen by the user. The special glasses worn by the user make these projections seem real to the human brain. From the middle of a virtual storm, the CAVE will allow scientist to alter the variables necessary to the storm.
For example, Robert Wilhelmson, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois, and graduate student Vijendra Jaswal have already used the CAVE to research “severe thunderstorms, a tornado-spawning supercell, and most recently a tropical squall line” (Pen*censored* 9). The CAVE is already proven to be beneficial to the field of meteorology. With virtual reality, scientists can readily interpret the factors a dangerous storm needs to forecasters. With more information on what causes dangerous weather, the world can become a shelter from the storm.
Virtual reality obviously works, but it may not be truly beneficial. In fact, many people believe virtual reality is actually a detriment to our society. They don’t believe the predicted possibilities of virtual reality, and also resist using it. These people have good reason for their strong beliefs. Those who discuss virtual reality, usually only focus on its strong points; rarely proving that it is a benefit to our society. Associating virtual reality into every day activity could prove to be an overall disadvantage for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, most of the hardware involved in virtual reality is still rather unprepared for its expectations. Years ago arcades were filled with simple, graphically lacking games, such as Pac-Man, or Frogger. However, today its becoming common for adolescence to be spoiled with new virtual reality games in tremendous arcade rooms. The problem is these simulations restrict the user to viewing the virtual reality from inside a helmet or a pair of goggles. The poorly synchronized movement produced by these devices often leaves users dizzy or nauseated. A person with an unbalanced equilibrium could have even more complications when experiencing virtual reality. This is an example of how virtual reality has proven to be detrimental for those who use it.
Virtual reality has the capability of contributing to nearly every technological daily activity. In my opinion, the human race has already devoted much of their extracurricular activities to technology. Therefore, virtual reality has the potential to practically lock people indoors and brainwash them of actual reality. Interaction amongst humans, along with their social skills could diminish drastically.
The Internet has already become a major factor in most every ones life. Chat rooms and instant messaging is currently extremely popular throughout the World Wide Web. In 1995 a new category of chat was introduced to the Internet. Worlds Chat combines three-dimensional graphics with online chatting. The chat allows the user to choose an animated body for themselves and interact with another user located anywhere in the world. Although this example doesn’t incorporate the typical VR helmet, it does demonstrate virtual reality. This example also shows that the Internet is becoming a great part of human interaction. Although this activity is entertaining it is an overall disadvantage to the society.
The best way to learn something is to witness it first hand. Therefore, using virtual reality to learn difficult tasks is not the best way to learn them. For example, the astronaut trainees using virtual reality to train for space, don’t know the results of their mistakes. They may even being brainwashed into believing they can make mistakes. Therefore, using virtual reality to train is a detriment for some technological fields.
I believe virtual reality will benefit our future in every field it encounters. This technology has already helped people learn so many things. For example, if someone from the state of Florida wants to learn how to ski, they can with virtual reality. They can strap on a helmet, step on to some active skis and experience reality far from any snow.
If someone wants to learn how to golf without walking an entire course, virtual reality can emulate the game. I once experienced this instance of virtual reality. Golf games have been created where the user can swing and actual club and hit an actual ball into a screen in front of them. The screen is an emulation of any course in the world. After the ball hits the screen, it continues its path in the game. This game is extremely realistic, because the game reads the balls trajectory, power, direction and even spin when it is hit. I once played 18 holes at Augusta, one of the most premier courses in the world, and I didn’t even leave Ohio. These examples are just some of the possibilities virtual reality will bring to our future.
Introducing virtual reality into the future will prove to be a benefit for our society. Several important issues involving virtual reality have previously been discussed. Surgery and surgical training are extremely crucial processes in which virtual reality has shown to be beneficial. Astronaut training is another critical procedure. Jim Newman, highly experienced in space, stated himself that without virtual reality it was “impossible” to train for certain events (Cox 40). Precise forecasts of the weather are not always easy. However, virtual reality has already been incorporated in the study of severe weather, giving forecasters more knowledge and the society more protection. The future is virtual reality, and its benefits will remain immeasurable.