Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special equipment, such as a headset with a screen, or other types of motion or positional tracking devices. VR allows the user to experience and explore a simulated environment as if they were physically present in it.
In a VR experience, the user wears a headset that displays a 3D image or video and may also include sensors that track the user’s head movement and allow them to look around the virtual environment. Some VR systems also include hand-held controllers that the user can use to interact with the virtual environment in a more natural way, such as by reaching out to touch objects or by making hand gestures.
There are many applications for VR, including gaming, training and simulation, education, and entertainment. VR technology has the potential to change the way we interact with computers and the world around us and has already been used in a variety of fields, including healthcare, architecture, and the military.
Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality
You can think of Mixed Reality as an umbrella term, a spectrum covering both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) experiences.
In Augmented Reality, the digital graphics are overlaid on top of the real world around us through transparent lenses (e.g. Microsoft HoloLens, Magic Leap) or a pass-through camera (Meta Quest Pro). You can still see the physical environment just like wearing glasses.
With Augmented Reality, since you can see the physical environment and objects, applications enhance the real world with digital information. Guided training, wayfinding, and 3D model reviewing are some of the great examples of AR.
In Virtual Reality, your eyes are fully covered by opaque lenses (Meta Quest, HTC Vive, Samsung Odyssey), surrounded by a digital world. You cannot see the surroundings and you are fully immersed in the virtual world.
VR is often used for entertainment, education, training, and other applications where users need to be fully immersed in a simulated environment. AR is often used for practical applications such as navigation, product visualization, and maintenance, where users need to be able to see and interact with both the real and virtual worlds at the same time.
Key elements of Virtual Reality
In order to create a sense of immersion and allow for interactivity, the user’s movements and position must be tracked in the virtual environment. This is often done using sensors and other tracking technologies. Earlier VR devices required external sensors mounted on the walls to track the position of the users. However, most of the recent VR devices are now using inside-out tracking techniques that leverage multiple cameras attached to the headset.
Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) is a technology that allows a device to create a map of its environment while simultaneously determining its own location within that map. This enables the device to navigate and understand its surroundings in real time. Please check out the article ‘What is SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping)?’
Virtual reality experiences allow the user to interact with the virtual environment in a variety of ways, using specialized equipment such as controllers or gloves fitted with sensors. Recent VR devices support more natural interactions through hand-tracking, eye-tracking, and speech input. As technology advances, more natural interactions are becoming possible allowing users directly interact with digital objects with their hands or use multi-modal input by combining multiple input methods.
This is the simulated three-dimensional space in which the user is immersed. It can be a realistic or fantastical world and can include elements such as landscapes, buildings, objects, and characters.
Spatial audio is a type of sound that is designed to create a sense of immersion and presence in a virtual reality (VR) environment. It works by simulating the way sound behaves in the real world, taking into account the location and orientation of the user, as well as the position and characteristics of virtual objects and characters in the environment.
Spatial audio can be used to create a realistic and immersive soundscape in a VR experience, allowing the user to hear sounds coming from different directions and distances as if they were really there. This can enhance the sense of immersion and presence in the virtual environment and make it feel more realistic.
Spatial audio can be experienced through headphones or other specialized audio equipment, and it is often used in conjunction with visual and haptic (touch) stimuli to create a fully immersive VR experience. It is an important aspect of many VR applications, including entertainment, education, training, and more.
Applications – Where are they being used?
VR is often used in the entertainment industry, including in video games, movies, and other forms of media. It can be used to create immersive and interactive experiences that allow users to explore and interact with virtual worlds and characters.
Education and training
VR is increasingly being used in education and training as a way to simulate real-world scenarios and environments. It can be used to teach practical skills, such as surgery or piloting an aircraft or to provide educational content in a more engaging and interactive way.
Medicine and therapy
VR is being used in the medical field to treat a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, phobias, and chronic pain. It can be used to provide exposure therapy and other types of treatment in a controlled and safe environment.
Design and prototyping
VR is often used in the design and prototyping process to allow designers and engineers to visualize and interact with 3D models and concepts. It can be used to test and refine designs before they are built or manufactured.
Tourism and travel
VR is being used in the tourism and travel industry to allow people to experience virtual tours and attractions or to plan and preview trips before they are taken.