The following article comes from the book Virtual Reality Tomorrow: The Promise and Perils of VR in the 21st Century, which is being completed by VR eMAG publisher John C. Briggs. It is part of the book’s first chapter, “VR Today: The Promise of Virtual Reality.” Early drafts of this chapter and the introductory chapter of the book are available from VR eMAG. To order a hard copy, see details below.
The Promise of Virtual Reality: Why VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) may be one of the most important technologies in our future, producing great leaps forward in many fields. While the current focus is on VR’s use in the entertainment arena at present, in the future its largest impacts will be in the arts, business, communication, engineering, medicine, and many other fields. VR will move from a primarily personal, local, and stand-alone activity to a networked experience for sharing information and communicating. Due to the importance of VR, I felt the need to write this book to dispel a great deal of false information about current VR and to suggest some important and very real applications for the future.
VR is not a set of devices like helmets and gloves, as it is often portrayed in the popular media. Rather, VR is a means to create, experience, and share a computer-generated world as realistic or as fanciful as you would like. VR can provide ways to transmit information, share experiences, or communicate ideas. In fact, VR has been called a “meta medium,” a medium which depicts another medium.
Hype and Hope
There is a great deal of hype surrounding VR right now. The technology’s present state of advancement has been overstated. VR is appearing in numerous magazine and newspaper articles, on TV shows, and even in TV ads. This coverage, often using slick and time-consuming animations to produce faster and more detailed images, suggests that VR has reached its potential. Unfortunately that is not the case.
VR visualizations are often of low quality, fuzzy, and cartoonish. The picture we see may be jerky and not respond quickly to our movements. Some systems combine sound with sight to produce a richer experience, but not all. Few systems allow for a sense of touch, technically called tactile or force feedback. VR systems are most often expensive. Finally, some people question the physiological and psychological safety of VR, particularly in the home entertainment environment.
However, we should not abandon the technology despite any current shortcomings. The future if VR is important and real. VR is with us in a very early and rudimentary form. Its state of development has been likened to the space program in the 1950’s or microcomputers in the 1970’s. We are just beginning to see the future potential of VR dimly in its hyped state.
Faster computers, better software, and new devices to inform our senses are expected to come rapidly onto the scene, improving VR and increasing its utility. Better content and new applications will emerge in the years ahead. VR will come to us over the Net/Web and whatever supersede these means of communication, reducing the need for complicated and expensive stand-alone equipment. Don’t let the hype fool you. VR is not fully here yet, but it will become increasingly important for individuals, companies, and our society as a whole.
There are many potential applications of VR. Perhaps in the future these applications will only be limited by our imagination. VR is neither inherently good nor bad. It is a new tool, which will have important implications in our future.
In working in the VR field, I have found a very important element, something that is often overlooked. In order to create VR worlds, one must have an in-depth understanding of how our everyday world works. Perhaps one of Virtual Reality’s greatest gifts will be in helping us to better understand our everyday reality.
In the next few weeks, the “VR Today and Tomorrow” column will bring definitions VR definitions, its characteristics, and terms others give to the field. Then, we’ll move on to some frequently asked questions about VR.
Can’t wait for this new book to be serialized on the Web. You can order the first parts of “Virtual Reality Tomorrow” right now. You will get “Chapter 0: Read Me First” and “Chapter 1: Virtual Reality Today,” about one-third of the book. It includes VR explanations, interviews, lecture notes, charts, and scenarios.