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Virtual Reality

Take the human mind’s imagination and stretch it to its farthest limits. Write a computer program to breathe life into the conceived idea. Hook up the whole contraption to the latest cutting edge technological equipment and the end result is guaranteed to overload our perception of reality, the reality as we know it. Yes, folks, virtual reality is taking our society by storm, invading almost every aspect of our lives. With some special equipment such as helmets and gloves, the average person can immerse himself in a virtual world where he can travel to Africa or learn how to drive.

Due to the great leaps made in today’s technological arena, nothing is impossible with virtual reality; it is only limited to the imagination of a person. All the hype and excitement about virtual reality rests upon its multiple and flexible applications. The medical field, the industrial world, and even educational systems can utilize this technology and produce efficient products and satisfactory results. But within the computer and technology-crazed world, virtual reality proves to be a major player in cutting down human interaction and contributing to this “impersonal world.

With the loss of human interaction, human morals and ideals get lost within the jungle of fiber optics and cyberspace. Although virtual reality offers our society many advantages in the areas of medicine, industry, education, and sexuality, the shortcomings of the technology limit its success; more importantly, the technology itself has a detrimental effect on human interaction and human morals. In today’s quest to find the easiest and most efficient way to execute procedures and train doctors, virtual reality has surfaced as one of the medical field’s most popular mediums.

Exploding into the medical arena this past year, revolutionary software, Immersive Workbench, allows a doctor to virtually enter a patient’s body. The doctor wears special gloves and shutter glasses to interact with the patient “virtually” through images generated by cat scans, magnetic resonance imagery, and ultrasound (Hodges 17). This technology allows the doctor to plan the best possible way to execute the medical procedure for the patient. Using virtual reality, the doctor can practice the procedures until he or she is confident enough to actually perform the procedure (18).

Due to this feature, the software is making its way into medical schools to train soon-to-be-doctors. Immersive Workbench is a stand-alone software where an instructor is not required to be present in the training and simulations (19). Virtual reality allows doctors to have hands-on experience without actually performing the medical procedures. This cuts down on expenses and reduces the time of training. The doctor also gains from virtual reality practice through lowering the stress levels and reducing tense situations because the doctor can have all the practice he or she requires without a life-threatening situation.

Like all good things in life, there is, however, a hefty price tag that society must pay for this technology. With virtual reality taking over as “teachers” in the medical schools, instructors and seasoned doctors become obsolete. This “lack of instructor-to-student contact is detrimental to our society” (Grantham and Vaske 82). However, by practicing through simulations alone, the doctor does not learn the essential social skills, for example bedside manners, required in the medical field.

Along with social skills, doctors miss out on hearing advice and experiences from seasoned doctors because “conversations between humans go beyond the task of giving and receiving information; they also involve socials goals of making an impression and influencing others” (Grantham and Vaske 84). If there is a human being teaching the course instead of virtual reality on its own, the doctors and professors would be able to learn from each other’s input. Also, virtual reality simulations lack the nonverbal behaviors such as a smile or a head nod from the professor.

The absence of these cues in the teacherless environment restricts the ability to achieve the same level of understanding between the student and instructor (86). In the simulated environment, the student is not able to ask questions or to clarify instructions or techniques. The lack of human interaction within the virtual reality training limits a doctor’s understanding of the whole medical procedure when applied to humans, for human beings react in ways that a computer can not simulate (86).

The “people skills” that doctors possess aid in reassuring their patients, but without social skills, doctors do not know how to act with patients, which leads patients to become uncomfortable and anxious about their medical situation (Granthan 83). In addition to the medical field, the potential of virtual reality has not entered our society without catching the eyes of the educational system. In this area, virtual reality is used for a basic function: innovative teaching. In pilot programs across America, virtual reality in the classrooms strives to “promote human creativity and [to] decentralize power” (Zhai 124).

The educational system, includes a type of hierarchy of power: the teachers are at the top, then comes the favorite students, and finally at the bottom, the average students trying to get by. Since few teachers are trained in the use of virtual reality, many find themselves learning alongside the students, and this results in the breakdown of the power structure which benefits the students because now their education becomes “student-centered learning” (Shroeder 76). Students can explore their interests and creativity using the technology. Mathematics and sciences become visual and almost tangible lessons.

Unfortunately, these benefits are not likely to reach a typical high school in a typical town any time soon. One of the downfalls of the virtual reality technology is the price tag that comes attached with it. The price of implementing virtual reality in one classroom can easily reach up to one million dollars or more (Derra 46). In today’s society, funding to improve schools, let alone install the latest technology in every classroom is hard to obtain. Due to its efficiency and technological appeal, virtual reality has also become a hot ticket in the industrial world.

Where the educational system lacks the funding to utilize virtual reality, the industrial world does not think twice about allocating money into the research and implementation of the technology. General Motors and Ford Motor Company funnel money into research along the lines of product prototypes to view their products before a scrap of machinery has been moved. Today, virtual simulations have been integrated into mainstream industry in the areas of product design and development, sales and marketing, and manufacturing and training (Ravenhill 65).

One of the front runners advocating the use of the technology is the automobile industry. Ford and General Motors utilize this technology to aid in the design, the engineering, and the production of cars. Before a car is produced, Ford has to hire engineers to design the cars and technicians to test the cars for safety. Here, virtual reality lends a helping hand. Using virtual reality to test car designs for safety cuts down on the costs and time to design a car (Johnson 32).

Once the car is designed, the issue of marketing and sales ventures into virtual reality’s realm as well. The automobile industry utilizes virtual reality in the form of 3-D visualization to “convince sponsors and business executives the worth of the product” (Johnson 32). After the design is given the green light, the manufacturing of the car is required. In the automobile industry, machine operators go through training that lasts from nine months to five years. The operating jobs in the factory are performed in a high risk and high stress environment.

Through the use of the virtual technology known as Interactive Product Simulation (IPS), Ford Motor Company trains their operators in a “safer environment with more comprehensive trainingwithout decreasing plant production and quality” (Ravenhill 65). The advantages of using virtual reality training can be seen in the reduction of the error rates of the operators from twenty-five percent with traditional training to two percent using IPS. Virtual training allows trainees to be taught the same way each time without the fear factor involved to intimidate the employees (Greengard 32).

The absence of fear in the job training of an employee results in more confident and competent workers. The virtual training environment provides an effective and practical solution to industrial challenges while cutting down time and costs of productions. Also, unlike in the educational system, money is not the issue that sets the technology back. Although training using virtual reality has proven to be an advantage to the industrial companies, virtual training is not sufficient enough in respects to “it lack[ing] the elements of touch to make it effective in industrial training” (Ravenhill 66).

The IPS recreates the environment in the factory splendidly, but its shortcoming is the awkwardness of the equipment. The trainee is trained to know what to do, but he or she does not gain the “feel” for the machinery. Jeff Grimes, a Ford manufacturing development engineer, claims that the virtual training environment still needs to provide the feel of the real situation (qtd. in Ravenhill 65). Another problem with training using the IPS is the fact that the trainees do not benefit from learning from experienced operators.

As in medical training, the lack of communication with seasoned operators harms the trainee to some extent. A veteran can provide the trainee with advice when something goes wrong; he or she can demonstrate what to do. Whereas, with the IPS training, the trainee learns without this expertise (66). The limitations of virtual reality are also attributed to the lack of a standard interface. In essence, “too many people are reinventing the wheel” (Derra 49). Developers implement different methods of interacting within the virtual reality environment.

With the many different approaches to solving the same problem, streamlining the technology into one standard method is quite difficult. Virtual reality is not limited to industrial and technological applications; it could also make an impact on human morals and virtues, especially in the areas regarding sex and communication. Cybersex is a phenomena that is increasing among Internet users. Virtual reality technology dresses up cybersex; in fact, it brings cybersex to a whole new level.

Although there is no actual virtual reality cybersex protocol as of today, extensive research has already begun to investigate possible hardware and methods to bring cybersex into virtual reality. According to Philip Zhai, a professor of philosophy at Muhelnberg College with an engineering degree, virtual sex could be enacted by having a “combination of a manmade apparatus with an interactive virtual reality process to allow two people to finish the physiological process on the actual level and be sensually and emotionally fulfilled on the virtual level” (44).

In Zhai’s scenario, two people thousands of miles away from each other can meet in a virtual world, consent to have intercourse, and actually go through the process of intercourse using female-like and male-like apparatuses that contain microsensors to input data (44). Of course, the whole objective to cybersex is to have the intercourse in “real time”. Research in biotechnology indicate that microsensors gathering data can create an almost seamless transfer of information to make real time virtual sex a possibility (Maxwell 30).

Supporters of virtual sex claim that the availability of virtual sex will “eliminate prostitution and will allow safe sex” (31). With virtual sex, human interaction would not be necessary; thus, the threat of sexually transmitted disease will decline dramatically. The appearance of virtual sex will “open [a] new frankness in society about sexual matters” where “physicians would be less conservative about sex” (29). Due to the impersonal nature of virtual sex, instructions in sex and sexual problems and their treatment will be addressed more openly.

This area of virtual sex brings two opposing moral ideas to clash: the traditional and the liberal. The openness about a “taboo” topic violates the conservist views of keeping sexual matters personal, but with virtual sex, intercourse becomes impersonal-again modeling the problems encountered in both the medical and industrial applications. Returning to Zhai’s scenario of virtual sex, he speculates that procreation via virtual reality would be possible. This seemingly impossible task can be achieved by the real time dynamic process of virtual sex and the physical hardware apparatus used in correlation with the virtual software.

The sperm can be packaged, put on ice, and sent to the woman. The woman then places the sperm into the male-like apparatus and can be impregnated the next time intercourse is performed (Zhai 46). Assuming that procreation is possible in virtual sex, all sorts of human morals and ethics would be violated in similar ways as the issues of surrogate mothers or sperm banks. Conceiving a child “virtually” without a partner brings an impersonal light upon the issues of relationships and marriage, adding further chaos in a topic that is already surrounded by controversy.

With no moral or ethical obligations, “for the crowd, sex will be out of context of a relationship and in the context of meeting needs and using people” (McRary M1). The more impersonal the world gets, the more moral values and ideals decline. Virtual sex does not have to follow Zhai’s projection for it to be detrimental to human interaction and morals. The outrage and confusion that virtual sex would inevitably generate further reinforces virtual reality’s many flaws. In everyday life, we face discrimination of some sort; whether it be race discrimination, or social status discrimination, the world as we know it enables others to judge us.

In virtual reality, according to Jaron Lanier, who all refer to as the Father of Virtual Reality, “Virtual reality is the ultimate lack of class or race distinctions or any other forms of pretense since all form is variable” (email to the author 5 April 1999). Virtual reality transcends cultural barriers, international lines, and gender differences; it breaks down discrimination due to its impersonal nature. To Lanier, “if the technology has a tendency to increase human communication, human sharing, then I think it’s a good one overall” (email to the author 5 April 1999).

Virtual reality allows the users to meet in a virtual world where forms and appearance do not matter as much. More importantly, virtual reality can effect human interaction in a negative way. The technology rests solely on computer-simulated images and computer codes to dictate the outcomes. In actuality, we have moved into an era where we are more machine dependent. Human interaction becomes less and less frequent once virtual reality applications become readily available (Reynolds 121).

Virtual reality carries with it all the promises of quicker and less expensive meetings, conferences, and get-togethers because of its networking capabilities. For this very reason, people will find themselves immersed in virtual reality without any actual human contact and as “we become more machine dependent, we’re going to struggle with loving things” (McRary M1). The loss of human contact brings with it an impersonal world where relationships and socializing could potentially dwindle to the point of near extinction.

The applications and potential for virtual reality are endless. It is a “world without limitation, a world unlimited as dreams,” it is a “technology that uses computerized clothing to synthesize shared reality” (Lanier). Virtual reality has taken the medical world and industrial scene by storm; offering the technology to make the impossible possible, the hard to become easy. But despite all the many pros of the technology, “the cons are more detrimental to society” (Reynolds 121). In implementing virtual reality into our society, extreme caution should be considered.

The benefits of virtual reality can be reaped without stripping our world of its morals and ideals. It is true that virtual reality, with all its advantages and disadvantages, has put a new look into our society. The devaluation of human interaction due to the heavy onslaught of technological advances and the possible threat of virtual reality have made us aware of the potential dangers of living in a too high tech of a world. Once virtual reality enters our lifestyles, and once we take a look at the virtual world, we have gone past the point of no return.

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Home » Virtual Reality » Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality, is a computer-generated, multi-sensory human interface to computers. Virtual reality extends beyond the capability of typical workstation graphics in two ways. First, through the use of tracking sensors, the computer knows precisely the location and angle of the user’s head, which enables the graphics scene to be generated in the correct perspective for each eye. Second, because a very wide-angle image is provided, which is updated 10 to 60 times a second and is often augmented with synthesized surround sound, motion, and even scent, a level of immersion in the simulated scene is achieved.

Immersion, combined with correct perspective, allows the development of facile methods for navigation in three dimensions. (Gump) Scene complexity is determined by the computer system’s capability to display a great number of shaded, lighted, textured, and occluded polygons necessary to visually describe the many objects in the scene. Change to the scene is governed by the computer simulation program or database driving the creation of the scene. Thus the visual quality of a VR experience is dependent on the speed of both the graphics-rendering hardware/software and the computer system itself. (Gump)

There are four major types of virtual reality devices currently in use: the head-mounted display (HMD), the binocular omni-oriented monitor (BOOM), the workstation “desktop” model (DEERING), and the projection model (CAVE). The HMD is a tracked helmet worn by the user that provides small television screens properly placed in front of the eyes. Although modest in comparison with other VR devices, it is not lightweight enough to prevent fatigue, and the screen resolution is typically medium at best. The BOOM also uses small television screens, but the angle of view is improved by wide-angle optics.

The screens are suspended from a mechanical arm articulated in five dimensions that eliminates the weight of the HMD and provides accurate tracking over its range of operation. The desktop model uses a standard workstation screen outfitted with stereo liquid crystal display (LCD) shutter glasses synchronized with the screen so that each eye’s view, drawn in correct perspective, is presented to that eye only. The disadvantage is a limited field of view, but this can be partially overcome by using a much larger projection screen in front of the user, the goal being to get the edges of the screen out of view. Warrick) The CAVE is a room 3 by 3 by 3 meters (10 by 10 by 10 feet) constructed of at least two walls and a floor made of projection screens. It has a very wide field of view and high resolution and provides a rather complete feeling of immersion. Since the CAVE is large and two to four times as expensive as the other models, it is not an office device. However, since it allows multiple participants at once (only one is tracked), the CAVE can be used in sales, teaching, and presentation contexts. (Benedickt) The field of virtual reality is in its infancy.

Improvements in tracker accuracy and range, display resolution and cost, rendering hardware, real-time simulation software and networking, human interfacing techniques (for example, voice and gesture recognition), audio synthesis, and high-performance computing are needed to assure its use in manufacturing, education, science, and art. Virtual reality is the new frontier of the computer-human interface. Researchers in computer-imaging technology are developing systems by which users can experience a simulated three-dimensional reality.

This simulated reality is known as virtual reality The termcyberspace has sometimes been used synonomously with VR but has by now gained its own meaning. (Gump) Since the 1970s, technologists have learned how to produce animated computer images of objects that exhibit the colors, textures, and changing spatial orientations that their counterparts exhibit in the real world. The images can also be subjected to changing light conditions and to simulated effects of gravity and other forces (see computer graphics; computer modeling).

The results can look as real as actual motion pictures. The further aim of technologists is to make it possible for persons to “enter” and actually manipulate VR. (Gump) Thus far this is being achieved to a limited degree only by having an observer wear complex headgear through which computer images are fed to small screens in front of the eyes. At the same time, gloves or full suits that are equipped with networks of sensors are transmitting apparent changes of body orientation in VR.

A simpler form of these VR techniques is seen in the flight simulators used for training military pilots. (Warrick) Besides its application in training systems, many other potentially practical uses of VR can be suggested. They range from the long-distance manipulation of robot devices to the retraining of stroke victims in the use of their limbs. Computer graphics is the use of computers to produce pictorial representations of information, from a graph of a company’s earnings to a video-game maze.

Almost any pictorial image may be stored in a computer and rendered and manipulated according to the user’s wishes. To generate such graphics, the user needs a computer, a graphics software program and input-output devices adapted to the nature of the images. Even a typical personal computer system, with a keyboard and color monitor, can execute fairly complicated graphics programs. Other input-output devices, such as electronic sketchpads, video digitizers, video cameras, printers, and color plotters, can enhance the computer’s graphics capabilities. (Warrick)

Pictorial images generally contain an enormous amount of information, each piece of which must be translated by the computer into a digital code and stored in computer memory. For example, a study of thermal convection in the Earth’s mantle, in which huge amounts of raw data are converted by the computer into colorful three-dimensional images, is possible only by using a supercomputer, an extensive network of linked desktop computers, or some combination of supercomputers and specialized smaller computers. (Warrick) Computer graphics often employs specialized hardware and software technologies.

On the hardware side, a great deal of effort has been devoted to perfecting video displays. Most computer graphics are shown on a monitor, or Video Display Terminal, in the form of a cathode-ray tube (CRT). Two display methods are typically used: raster-scan CRTs and vector CRTs. In the more common raster-scan CRT, an electron beam sweeps the screen horizontally many times per second, creating an image that consists of a two-dimensional grid of dots. Each of these dots, or pixels (for picture elements), may be manipulated in color and intensity.

The greater the number of pixels that can be generated, the finer is the resolution of the image; but the higher the resolution, the greater is the amount of memory needed for image storage. In vector CRTs, the electron beam sweeps back and forth between two or more points on the screen, creating an image composed of lines. Because vector CRTs are commonly employed in drafting, this image is adequate. (Gump) On the software side, graphics programs employ a wide variety of special display algorithms, or internal data-processing procedures, to create realistic images (see image processing).

For example, fractal algorithms produce computer-generated geometric images. They are ideal for creating and analyzing representations of irregular patterns in nature, such as clouds, mountains, and coastlines. Fuzzy sets, or algorithms based on statistical probabilities, are useful for generating images of natural phenomena. An iterative algorithm can reproduce the same image countless times, making tiny changes in each one. Hidden-surface removal algorithms can erase lines and surfaces from unseen portions of an image. Colorizing” can endow a colorless image with a wide range of hues. (Leonard) With computer-aided design (CAD) systems, images can be intricately detailed and easily modified and manipulated, allowing them to be viewed from any angle. Researchers use computer graphics for such purposes as producing three-dimensional (3D) views of the human brain or studying how pollutants interact with various meteorological phenomena. In addition to the exploration of 3D possibilities in themselves , there are also growing educational applications.

For example, flight simulators have become indispensable tools for training pilots and astronauts, visualizations of complex equations increase understanding for mathematics students, and “virtual” bodies enable physicians to practice delicate procedures before operating on patients. Few industries have taken as thorough advantage of the computer’s ability to generate and manipulate images as the video game business. The computer’s imaging ability has also found a home in Hollywood and in advertising. (Gump) Improved capabilities of personal computers and their programs have also put powerful graphics tools into the hands of many consumers.

Paint programs enable users to create a drawing and then color it. With draw programs they can create two- and three-dimensional images that can be manipulated in many ways. Animation tools allow users to create action sequences automatically. Photographs, drawings, and video clips can also be digitized and imported into many graphics programs. Such programs typically include collections of stored images called “clip art,” which users can electronically “clip out,” “paste into” the working file, and then manipulate.

The output of graphics programs can also be exported to desktop publishing programs and used in creating multimedia productions. (Gump) Virtual Reality is an interesting topic. Virtual Reality is one of the many new innovations emerging today. Virtual reality is a part of the future. Researchers are working daily to solve the problems that produce cyber sickness. Researchers are using innovations for virtual reality. These innovations may change the business and personal life. Managers will be using virtual reality, as well as groups and employees. (Haag, Cummings, Dawkins)

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