·Virtual worlds: mainly referring to entertainment when virtual reality refers more to utilities
·Mixed reality: mainly used in entertainment applications where different kinds of realities are mixed. Augmented reality on the other hand refers to situations where reality is augmented with some other elements.
·Metaverse: vision of an immersive 3D virtual world, to include aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. The concept is not widely used in academic discourse but recently there has been a strong consortium which has launched this concept for further development.
The first virtual reality simulator ‘‘Sensorama Simulator’’ can be traced back to Morton Heilig who is believed to have invented the system in around 1962. Heilig’s work is outlined in his patent of August 28, 1962 (Heilig, 1962). In it he outlines how the sensorama simulator works and explains that part of the usefulness of the simulator would be in avoiding risks that came with hazardous jobs such as the military or in educational training. Therefore, rather than deal with actual real line situations, the system would be useful in simulating the environments that users wanted to train in. Heilig’s sensorama came in the form of a head mounted display which was a central device in augmented reality systems at the time of its invention.
Ivan Sutherland was the pioneer in the introduction of the first considered virtual reality and augmented reality head-mounted system in 1968. Since Sutherland’s first paper on the subject in 1965, examination of virtual reality has occupied the research field (Blanchard et al. 1990). The terms “virtual reality” and “augmented reality” were introduced around the turn of the decade, 1980 – 1990 when the first commercial virtual reality applications, such as Lanier’s VPL DataGlove, were brought onto the market. Lanier’s VPL DataGlove and Azuma et al (2001) demonstrate that AR technology has not only been limited to head-worn displays but also includes handheld displays which may also include flat LCD screens for display. Today handheld display augmented reality is already being developed for new smartphones whose applications are further being developed for consumer markets. In addition augmented reality applications also cover a projection display which as the name suggests projects virtual information on the augmented object or the augmented information is projected to the real life context. (Zhou et al 2008).
In recent years the more advanced computer hardware has enabled the virtual and augmented reality applications to become more practically useful and numerous. (e.g. immersive architectural modeling, simulations for vehicle driving/training) (Peng and Leu 2005, Cruz-Neira, 1998).
In the future virtual reality will be an integral part of our daily life and will be used in various ways. The techniques will influence our behaviour, interpersonal communication and cognition (i.e. virtual genetics). We are expected to migrate more and more to the virtual space in the future which will have great impact on economics, worldview and culture. For example human rights may be extended into virtual space in some cases meaning that virtual identities (i.e. avatars) may be handled almost similarly as identities we apply today in real life situations (Cline 2005).
Application Areas / Examples
Azuma (1997) points to several application areas which include:
i. Medical: Augmented reality has the potential to help medical personnel during surgical procedures. The technology is likely to be helpful in the collection of 3-D datasets through use of non invasive sensors which can be rendered in real time. This can help to visualize the real patient and the area that needs surgery. The technology can also be used for medical training as well as through virtual instructions to a trainee. Similar techniques can be used in military aircrafts that navigate, provide flight information and target environments.
ii. Manufacturing and Repair: Augmented reality could be used in the manufacture and repair of complex machinery. Rather than have manuals, 3-D may be employed and used and superimposed with the actual machine to show step by step processes.
iii. Annotation and visualization: Augmented reality has the potential to annotate objects and environments and thereby provide required information to the user. The technology can also be used to aide visualization in poor visibility conditions.
iv. Robot path planning: Virtual Reality can be used to control a virtual version of a robot in the event that the control of an actual one fails. This can be carried out through the manipulation of the virtual version in real time.
v. Entertainment: Augmented or virtual reality can be used to create virtual sets that can be superimposed and merged with real life acting and actors to create a cinematic environment in 3-D (p.8).
Definition and Defining Features
The term virtual reality (VR) has been widely used and defined in various ways by different researchers. In the widely cited paper published in Communications of ACM Feiner et. al. (1992) utilize an attribute that defines the virtual reality as systems that substitute the experience of the physical world with 3D material, such as icons or graphics.
VR is originally being referred solely to completely immersive virtual reality or virtual environment. Today the term virtual reality is also used for describing non-immersive or partial immersive applications, although the boundaries are becoming obscure (Beier 1999). Regardless of the terminological comparison VR has many advantages over fully immersive virtual environments. Azuma (1997) points out benefits VR possesses. For example the virtual objects of virtual reality convey information that is helpful in performing real-world tasks. In a completely immersive environment the user is unable to see the world around him while being completely immersed inside a synthetic environment whereas partial immersive VR allows the user to observe and to operate in real world situations. By supplementing the reality with virtual objects the user is able to perceive the environment more comprehensively than the user is able to directly detect with his own senses. Consequently the partial immersion enables the enhancement of the user’s perception of and interaction with the real world.
According to a broad definition virtual reality makes it possible for humans to visualize, manipulate and interact with extremely complex data and with computers. From an interaction point of view virtual reality has been described as an interface that involves real-time simulation and interactions through multiple sensorial channels (Cline 2005). The simulation can be of either real or an imaginary world.
The juxtaposition of real and imagery is what prompts Beardon (1992) to define virtual reality as a simulation of the imaginary which is presented as the real. According to Beardon, because of this, virtual reality becomes subjective and may therefore obscure reality.
Azuma et al (2001) define augmented reality (AR) as systems with three characteristics:
1.) Combines real and virtual objects in a real environment;
2.) Runs interactively, and in real time; and
3.) Registers (aligns) real and virtual objects with each other (p.34)
In his earlier definition Azuma (1997) compares AR to Virtual Environments (VE) but differentiates the two by stating that where VE technologies completely immerse a user inside a synthetic environment in which a user is unable to see the real word, AR on the other hand allows the user to be able to see the real world with virtual objects superimposed with the real world (1997, p. 2).
Such technology may consist of a display device such as a mobile phone, PDA or a head-mounted display that shows the real physical environment on which it overlays digital information.
The Metaverse is another concept which is based more on Neal Stephenson’s coinage in the cyberpunk science fiction novel, Snow Crash, which envisioned a future broadly reshaped by virtual and 3D technologies. Stephenson’s 1992 vision is an immersive 3D virtual world, which includes aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. Metaverse is defined as the convergence of physical reality that is virtually enhanced and virtual space that is physically persistent. It is a fusion of both, physical and virtual, while allowing users to experience it as either. It is called the 3D enhanced web which is a shared virtual social space that can be represented to the user in either 2D or 3D (Smart et al 2007).
Virtual and augmented reality changes people’s experience of an environment by either replacing the experience of a real environment with a virtual one or adding virtual elements to the real environment.
Defining features of virtual and augmented reality are:
·Immersion: Virtual and augmented reality applications create environments in which users are immersed in and to varying extents. Immersion can be partial, full-body or mental. Because the immersiveness affects the person’s whole perception of the environment the subjectivity of the experience is emphasized.
·Simulation: The simulation can concern either a whole environment or a virtual artefact and the environments simulated in virtual reality applications can be either realistic (e.g. simulations for pilot or combat training) or based on imaginative worlds like in VR games. In either cases simulation aims to create an experience as realistic as possible.
·Sensory stimulation: Virtual reality environments are currently primarily visual experiences but the stimulation of multiple senses is an essential feature of the concept of virtual reality. Some advanced VR environments offer tactile information through devices like wired gloves, the Polhemus boom arm, and omnidirectional treadmill.
·Interactivity and communication: A large part of virtual reality solutions are created in gaming applications with rich multimodal interaction. Many applications are also created for enabling communication between people. Telepresence is a feature often included in virtual reality systems for enhancing communication between distant locations.
·Augmentation: Although AR is often associated with adding objects to real environments, it can also be used to remove objects. This means that AR has the ability to hide or remove real life environments due to its overlaying characteristic, although as Azuma (1997) points out, it may be harder but not entirely impossible if being done interactively.
·Portability: Most AR technology is such that there is little movement from the user, although as suggested by Azuma (1997), some applications will have the capacity to support a user in motion in a large environment.
The actual development of computer aided augmented or virtual reality was started around the 1970’s and the wide utilization of these technologies has been quite strong mainly in professional applications ever since. There is strong belief that these technologies will have even greater impact on human society in the coming years (Smart et. al. 2007 and MIT technology review 2007).
Relation to other Technologies
·Artificial intelligence: Virtual reality is related to artificial intelligence in its cultural dimension because both are using simulation to persuade users to amend their belief of what is real (Beardon 1992).
·AmI: Affiliation with ambient intelligence is explicable by the similarities in efforts aiming to support the users in daily activities by the information holding devices integrated into a real life environment. The development of AmI aims to create embedded environments where the technology eventually disappears into its surroundings remaining solely the user interface perceivable by users.
Azuma (1997) states that registration and sending errors are two main challenges in building an effective virtual reality system including limiting virtual reality applications.
Registration: The problem of registration concerns the proper aligning of elements of the real world with the virtual objects so that the illusion of two coexisting worlds won’t be compromised. The registration error can be either dynamic or static depending on whether the errors occur while the user’s viewpoint and the objects remain still or move.
Resolution: A simulated environment may not offer the exact resolution as a real life environment (Azuma et al, 2001; Azuma, 1997).
Safety: In the event that an AR technology fails especially during the process of use, e.g during surgery or in military action, the safety of the user or the patient in the case of surgery may be compromised (Azuma et al, 2001; Azuma, 1997.)
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In this meta-vignette we focus on computer aided virtuality (i.e. we do not discuss issues related to the experiences of virtual that are established via other means)
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