Virtual reality is a technology that has come a long way from the black and white and silent movie to 3D and full-color animation. Computer and electronic engineers are continuously searching novel ways to dramatically improve the virtual reality experience. Evidently, there are various definitions of virtual reality. In essence, virtual reality is meant to address minimum one of the four human senses - sight (visual), smell (olfactory), feel (tactile), and hearing (auditory). Currently, electronic and computer scientists, as well as engineers, are enhancing a system that seeks to incorporate the sense of taste. Since virtual reality has already revolutionized entertainment, it is a technology that should be nurtured and researched further to ensure a safe virtual world.
Returning to history, virtual reality was first used in the 1950s, when a cinematographer named Morton Heilig imagined a theater experience that would stimulate his audiences' minds. In 1960, he developed a single user console called the Sensorama. Brooks (1988) asserts that the Sensorama had a stereoscopic display, speakers, and a chair that moved among other devices designed to enhance the three-dimensional experience. He invented a head mounted television display, and people could watch television in 3-D. In 1965, another computer scientist Ivan Sutherland imagined the world where the user could become fully immersed in the three-dimensional experience. He called this the Ultimate Display. His dream was what almost all virtual reality technology is based on nowadays.
The technology is an exciting and innovative one unit with scientists and engineers working on a daily basis to enhance the three-dimensional experience for gamers, physicians, architects. The world is benefitting greatly from these strides since virtual reality became popular in the early 90's. According to Steuer, the exciting world of virtual reality has opened many doors to not only gamers but in the medical field as well. Whitton (2003) agrees that surgeons use this technology as well as psychiatrists. Despite the benefits of virtual reality in the medical field, physicians are concerned that the users can become desensitized to the violence in some virtual reality games and environments. They fear that the current and future generations can become a society of sociopaths. Other concerns are cyber sickness and addiction to virtual reality. This term is also called virtual environment. Most virtual reality systems are powered by computers because they are refined enough to handle the software used to control these games.
It is worth noting that certain technologies are required in order to create a virtual world. Each of these technologies has separately advanced in terms of technology. Nevertheless, the fundamental root of virtual reality includes a mix of software, hardware as well as electronic. According to Stanney (2002), they constitute the three major computer linked technologies, which combine to ensure that virtual reality works. There is a need for three imperative for virtual reality to be functional, namely special software, specific software, and the user. There are several input devices intended to enhance the whole experience of virtual reality and to make it work. Some examples include glasses, helmets, mice, joysticks, and wands. Such input devices are meant to measure and record electronic signals before converting them into the world that appears as physical. In essence, the output devices allow the brain of the user to internalize and process the physical world generated by the computer as it is. Consequently, the user interacts with the physical world as the brain interprets and synchronizes the sensory data. The key idea behind a virtual reality system includes the reality engine designed to produce the virtual world through information processing - the reality engine is crucial in generating intricate graphics.
As Hillis (1999) suggests, there are numerous advances helmets connected to the fast and powerful computers in order to guarantee virtual reality. However, the most common of all items that ensures the enjoyment of virtual reality includes a visor which covers totally the usual user's field of vision. When the virtual reality system is activated, the computer projects or displays visual and 3-dimensional scenes or objects within the visor, which are totally distinct that the things the user will experience in the usual computer-generated view. The most awesome part in all this is due to the many motion sensors installed into the visor. The motion sensors act in a way ensuring that it matches every movement the user executes. For example, when the user moves his body, tilts his head, lifts his hand, or turns in a certain way, the display in the projector does the same. Finally, it creates the same illusion to the user and makes him think that he is actually involved in the 3D computer world. The main purpose of the virtual reality includes giving the user a real surrounding as well as a thrilling sensory world. The virtual reality technology is developing fast; it will not be long before the technology becomes a source of excitement within every home.
Carlson (2003) reiterates that by definition, a virtual environment is said to exist if a 3D world generated by a computer is ready. Users should be able to interact with each other in this environment as well as leave the user with the notion that he is actually in the real environment. The use of virtual reality appears to be endless, from universities and schools to business. Online gaming also uses virtual reality to discover realistic gaming environments. Actually, VR therapy should be able to advance the creation of therapeutic and rapport alliance between the patient and the therapist. VR therapy should have an effectual form of treatment for patients who face the risk of recovery and behavioral issues. The interface of VR therapy is scientifically developed and becomes a the perfect mechanism that will reach the patients who are less equipped in optimal terms to deal with mental illness and behavioral issues without any fault of their own. More and more research needs to be directed towards distinguishing who should use the VR and not the usual face-to-face therapy.
According to Burdea & Coffet (2003), a user in a virtual reality surrounding experiences a feeling of being inside, commonly known as immersion. Here he can interact with the environment in several meaningful ways. The technique of combining interactivity and immersion is referred to as telepresense. This is the extent to which a person appears to be present in the environment mediated and not in the physical one. Therefore, the effectual VR should cause a user to shun real surroundings and stay focused on the virtual environment.
There are certain challenges in the virtual reality field including ways to develop advanced tracking systems, discovering more natural approaches that will let users interact with such an environment as well as minimizing the time taken to create virtual spaces. Another challenge for the developers of this system includes making a system that shuns bad ergonomics. Most systems depend on hardware, which limits a user's option or encumber him via physical tethers. Without well-designed hardware, a user may experience trouble with inertia or sense of balance. There might be a decrease in telepresense. Burdea & Coffet (2003) confirm that other users may experience things such as cyber sickness with symptoms of nausea and disorientation. Nonetheless, not everyone will feel these sicknesses; other people can play in a virtual surrounding for hours without any serious ill effects. There is also an issue emerging with the criminal acts. Defining things as sex crimes and murder is not easy in the virtual world.
NASA, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, have funded much of the research for virtual reality studies. Stanney (2002) asserts that the CIA provided $80000 to Ivan Sutherland for his research on three-dimensional technologies. Airlines instituted a policy that required pilots to have minimum one day off between a simulated flight and a real flight if they have trouble with their real performance flying. In the 1990's, the hoopla over virtual reality, created by the media, gave people unrealistic ideas about virtual reality. When it was discovered that it was not as advanced as the media had stated, the interest decreased. Nowadays the developers try not to overstate the capabilities of virtual reality to alleviate false advertising or disappointment in a product. The United States Military has used virtual reality right from the time it became possible and has been an important force in the development of virtual reality for military uses. Brooks (1988) opines that the simulated environments protect the soldiers from the dangers of being put in a real world situation while training them for real world situations. The Navy and Air Force have funded some research on the development of head mounted gear.
Beier reiterates that since virtual reality has already revolutionized entertainment, it is a technology that should be nurtured and researched further to ensure a safe virtual world. It is somehow hard to predict the future of virtual reality; however, one thing is clear - the entertainment world will experience more to do virtual reality. The technology is beginning to advance into movies and video games. Zhai (1998) affirms that the Project Natal and Nintendo Wii are two examples of this move. Here, the user executes certain physical movements to be involved in the game. There are numerous movies being made in 3 - D; only time will show when this technology can revolutionize the entertainment sector.