Virtual Reality: A Quick Summary
Story-telling is an art form, which if done well can capture the imagination of the reader to immerse him or her in the world created by the writer. Literature is littered with such works throughout the ages, with the earliest stories dating back 13,000 B.C. and found in the form of cave paintings in what were once human dwellings. Oral storytelling and written works gave way to motion-picture, which then provided the viewer a visual experience of the story as imagined by the writer. These however still remained passive forms, with the recipient only as an observer to the story being narrated. The question remained on how to have one immersed in the experience, to give the recipient a sense of control over the narrative itself. This has become possible in recent times with the technological advancements targeting simulated sensory-experiences, which has given rise to devices and wearables which provision artificial interactive sensory stimulus to the user. One branch of this continually expanding tree of simulated experiences is Virtual Reality (VR).
Some people generally confuse Augmented Reality with Virtual Reality. While part of the same tree, and with Augmented Reality considered a form of Virtual Reality, there is a fine line which divides the two concepts. Simply put; Augmented Reality can be considered as “altering” a person’s perception of a real world environment, while Virtual Reality is the “replacing” of a real world environment with a simulated / artificial environment. For Augmented Reality, as the name suggests, artificial stimulus is augmented to the real-world environment in which the recipient or user is present. This makes Virtual Reality more powerful in the sense that the artificial-stimulus or generated-environment is only limited by the imagination of the creator, and can thus embody the true spirit of story-telling by immersing the recipient in the alternate reality of the narrative.
Virtual Reality is not a recent phenomenon. Since the mid-1900s, companies were actively involved in developing VR Simulators for the military and aviation industries. These were used to simulate training exercises and for candidate evaluation purposes, allowing for a controlled environment in which safety hazards could be addressed and negated. These devices then later evolved for the medical and automobile industry, allowing for an immersive experience in analysis and design considerations. Gamers have also been familiar with the concept since the late-1900s, with commercial releases of VR Gear by companies such as Sega and Nintendo. Virtuality was launched as the first mass-produced VR entertainment system in that time, networked to allow for a multi-person interactive gaming experience. It is since the 2000s that VR has stepped out of the shadows, with a more commercial application for the mainstream markets outside of gaming and entertainment. VR has been seen to expand into the education, enterprise, health-care and journalism sectors, targeting the consumer markets with tailored-specific devices and applications. An example of this is the company Next VR, which allows for a user to be immersed in a Live Event and all from the comfort of one’s own home.
Considering the flip side, there are concerns being raised by health groups on the psychological, social and physical impacts of being immersed in a VR experience. While definite statistics are not available and no studies have been published, it is being argued that long term usage of VR exposure can have negative side-effects on the human body. The support being used for this argument are the consumer-warnings which come with VR Gear, which include dizziness, child-development, collision, discomfort and such. Another concern is the psychological issue, with the user becoming dependent on the VR experience as a form of escapism from real life. In addition to health and safety, a growing concern is on privacy. A requirement of the VR is persistent tracking, which raises the concern on mass surveillance being enabled for an individual’s movements and reactions. Then there is also the concern on the digital data being hacked and used for nefarious purposes.
Despite all this, the number of companies in the VR Landscape grew more than 40% by 2016 and with multiple VR Funds and Venture Capitalists established to foster start-ups and innovations in the VR domain. Established companies are investing heavily into VR and AR technologies by establishing divisions for research and development of products and services, with Facebook, Google, Sony, Nintendo, and Sega a few names in the long list. With huge investments in play and the market being driven by the need for better immersive experiences, the VR Industry looks to be well established for the foreseeable future.
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