What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality (VR) is - in short - an artificial environment created by computers, in which people can immerse themselves and feel that this artificial reality really does exist. The appeal of virtual reality is that people can experience an environment which may not exist in real life or which may not normally be available to them because of factors such as cost or safety.
Immersion and interactivity
We have all experienced some form of VR. Watching a movie is a low-grade VR experience. For a couple of hours we immerse ourselves in an artificial environment, even though we keep in mind that the movie is not reality.
Virtual environments are more believable when they engage all our senses. Take cabin rides in amusement parks as an example. People in the cabin watch a movie of a virtual roller coaster ride through some hair-raising landscape. The jerking, shunting, and rolling motion of the cabin makes the experience seem much more real than the view from a passive seat at the movies.
The key to sophisticated VR is interactivity. Visitors to a VR environment not only have to be able to navigate their way around, they also need to be able to influence the course of events in their environment.
Plugging in to virtual worlds - interface devices
To enter a virtual world, a visitor must use special interface devices that transmit the sight, sounds and sensations of the artificial world. These devices also need to transmit information about what the user is doing back to the computer controlling the virtual environment.
Commercial flight simulators employ a number of interface devices. The simulators consist of mock cockpits fitted out with real instruments, mounted on motion platforms that pitch and roll. Thousands of pilots have been trained in...