What is virtual reality?

Imagine you are standing in an empty room. Someone comes in and hands you a headset and a handheld device, and you put the headset on. Suddenly, you see a forest stretching out around you. To your left you see a river, and to your right you see a forest path. Using the handheld device, you move through this artificial world and discover that the river ends in a waterfall. You take the headset off, and the room you are standing in is visible again.

This is an example of virtual reality (VR). Basic VR usually requires technology in the form of headsets. Basic headsets include goggles, earphones and motion sensors.

VR TECHNOLOGY

VR goggles provide separate images for each eye. Your brain puts these two images together. This means that you can see things coming closer to or further away from you, like a thrown ball. This is called “depth perception” and it makes the artificial world feel more realistic.

The earphones in the headset provide you with sounds that suit the artificial environment. Each ear receives slightly different sounds from the earphones. This makes it sound like different noises are coming from different directions.

Motion sensors monitor the movement of your head. When you turn your head to the left, the motion sensors detect the movement and send that information to the headset. The goggles can then show you the correct images so that you can look around the artificial world.

THE USES OF VR

VR has many applications:

  • It is used for entertainment purposes such as in video games.
  • In psychology, it is used to study the interactions of people in artificial environments.
  • VR can be used to train doctors for certain tasks. This is more cost effective, and the training can be repeated as many times as needed.
  • VR can simulate workspaces for training purposes. Learners can develop skills without being in real danger if they fail. This is useful for training soldiers, police, drivers, pilots and astronauts.

THE FUTURE OF VR

VR technology is still young, but it holds enormous potential. Billions of dollars are currently being invested to develop the technology further. As VR becomes more advanced and less expensive, more people will gain access to it, and its usage will become more widespread and effective.

LISE DU BUISSON

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