What is Virtual Reality ? It’s Key Characteristics, Types and Applications

Virtual Reality utilizes computer technology to provide users an experience of objects or situations that actually do not exist. For example, Using VR, a user can experience swimming with dolphins, flying a spaceship, riding a roller coaster ride and visit a newly constructed building without leaving their comfort zone. In this article we will discuss what is virtual reality? its key characteristics, types and applications. We suggest you also read this article on the difference between Extended Reality Technologies AR vs VR vs MR.

Virtual reality is extended reality technology that is changing the way we interact with computers. VR utilizes computer technology to create simulation environments to convince the human brain in different environments. For example, you can experience Taj Mahal while sitting in a classroom.  

Humans experience or feel things by using their senses such as touch, vision, sound, smell, taste etc. Virtual Reality provides immersive user experience by simulating various human senses such as vision, touch, and sound. 

Higher the number of senses a VR device can control, better will be the user experience. Right now VR technology is still in the initial stages of development. To experience VR, users need to wear various VR devices.

Key Characteristics of Virtual Reality

To make VR experience more realistic, a VR system shall have following key characteristics. Higher the sense of these characteristics, more realistic will be the user experience.

Believable Virtual Word

This is a key characteristic of Virtual Reality. Virtual world is a computer generated responsive 3-Dimensional virtual environment. In this real world rules are applied. Therefore VR experience can becomes more realistic, if 3D virtual world has following characteristics.

  • Closer to the real world.
  • Responsive.
  • Interactive.
  • Fast.
  • Bug free.

For example, if you design a VR application, where a human can fly, or jump 20 meter wall. It will not look realistic. As a result user will not be able to immerse himself in virtual world. Therefore it will not create a realistic VR experience.

Immersive

To ensure users believe they are physically present in the real world while being in a virtual environment. VR needs to interact with user senses. Higher the number of senses a VR device can control, better will be the user experience. 

A Best VR device can control all five senses. But this is not a reality right now. The Matrix movie is the best example where all human senses are controlled by machines.

Feedback

Getting feedback is a key characteristic of virtual reality. It helps in making the VR experience more realistic and interactive.

For example, while playing boxing in a VR environment. If one user hits another user. VR experience will be more realistic if user experiences that hit through vibration sound or any other means. 

Interactive

To make VR experience more realistic, the virtual world should be interactive and fast. For example, VR experience becomes more realistic when the virtual environment responds to user action naturally and minimal lag.

Key Devices for Virtual Reality System

To create a VR experience more realistic and simulate human senses, following devices are used.

Virtual Reality Headset

High end VR headset consists of a display unit and earphone for audio simulation. They get input from computing devices such as X-box or playstation etc. Whereas low cost VR devices utilize smartphone screen as display and smartphone vibrations are used to provide haptic feedback.

HTC Vive (Head Mounted Display)

Following are the some of popular virtual reality Headset (head mounted display) available in the market.

Based on features offered by Virtual Reality Headset, their price varies from $50 to $800.

Computing Device (Commuter / Smart Phone)
Playstation

To run virtual content in 3D environments high computing power is required. This requirement is fulfilled using personal computers, play stations, workstations or smartphones.

Virtual Reality Input and Output Devices
VR input devices are used for users’ interaction with virtual environments. Whereas output devices help in convincing users that they are in real environment. 

Following is the list of some of VR input and output devices.

  • Joysticks
  • Force or tracking balls
  • Data gloves
  • Trackpads
  • On-Device control buttons
  • Motion trackers/Bodysuits
  • Motion platforms (Virtuix Omni)

Types of Virtual Reality

Following three types of virtual reality technologies are available according to the type of experience they offer.

  1. Fully Immersive VR
  2. Non-Immersive VR
  3. Semi-Immersive VR
Fully Immersive Virtual Reality

Fully immersive types of virtual Reality provide users with a more realistic experience. In other words, users think they are in another world. To experience a fully immersive VR, users need to wear VR headset, motion detection sensors and feedback devices.

Matrix world is the best example of fully immersive virtual reality. Existing technologies are not advanced like the matrix world. But they are improving with time.

Non Immersive Virtual Reality

In Non-Immersive type of Virtual Reality, only a subset of user sense is simulated. User senses are affected by the outside world. For example in 3D cad tools, engineers visualize a virtual product from various aspects but they are not immersed in it. But now cad tools have also started offering VR solutions to their customers.

Semi-Immersive Virtual Reality

Semi-immersive type of VR lies in between fully immersive and non-immersive VR. In this users are partially immersed in the VR system. For example in a car driving simulator, the driver sits in a cabin and road pictures with obstacles come up on a 2D screen. Therefore, the driver is fully aware of what is happening around him.

Applications of Virtual Reality

A common misconception is that VR technology is limited to the gaming industry only. But this is not true. VR has applications in education, healthcare, scientific research, product design sports and entertainment industry as well.

VR in Education Sector

VR is changing the way students learn. Students are using VR tools to visualize difficult concepts and improve their understanding. Fully immersive VR simulators are also used to train fighter pilots for training and next mission, Surgeons and car drivers. A sportsman can also train himself in VR simulators to improve performance on ground.

VR in Entertainment Industry

Virtual reality has lots of applications in the entertainment industry. It is actually completely revolutionizing the entertainment industry. 360º views and 3D movies are becoming more affordable.  

It is also changing the way we experience the outside world. For example, VR technology is used to experience a roller coaster ride or walking on the moon surface without actually being there.

Virtual Reality in Product and Industrial Design

Virtual reality also has applications in product design and development. Various CAD software companies are developing plugins to enable virtual reality in their software.

VR helps designers and customers in visualizing products before actually building them. Therefore it offers the following advantages to companies.

  • Improving product design.
  • Getting customer feedback in the initial phase of design.

For example, if you are a builder and want to sell a construction project. You can provide your customers property virtual tours. This will help them in making right decisions.

VR in Sports and Games

Sport persons always work on their weaknesses to improve performance. VR enabled simulators can be used to train sports persons for different scenarios to improve performance. 

Virtual Reality has also revolutionized the video gaming industry. VR games are very popular because they provide more realistic experience. 

Scientific Research

Previously, micro level structure analysis was done using microscopes. But with the evolution of VR technology and high quality cameras, researchers can analyse micro-structures using VR head mounted devices. This helps them to analyse things more effectively.

To sum up, virtual reality creates a virtual environment presented to our senses in such a way that we experience it as if we were really there. This technology is becoming cheaper and more widespread. It is changing the way we communicate and work. We suggest you read an article on Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality.

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