VR, What it is and How it Works

Essay by Thomas Arancio October 1996

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Imagine being able to point into the sky and fly. Or

perhaps walk through space and connect molecules together.

These are some of the dreams that have come with the

invention of virtual reality. With the introduction of

computers, numerous applications have been enhanced or

created. The newest technology that is being tapped is that

of artificial reality, or 'virtual reality' (VR). When

Morton Heilig first got a patent for his 'Sensorama

Simulator' in 1962, he had no idea that 30 years later

people would still be trying to simulate reality and that

they would be doing it so effectively. Jaron Lanier first

coined the phrase 'virtual reality' around 1989, and it has

stuck ever since. Unfortunately, this catchy name has

caused people to dream up incredible uses for this

technology including using it as a sort of drug. This became

evident when, among other people, Timothy Leary became

interested in VR. This has also worried some of the

researchers who are trying to create very real applications

for medical, space, physical, chemical, and entertainment

uses among other things.

In order to create this alternate reality, however, you

need to find ways to create the illusion of reality with a

piece of machinery known as the computer. This is done with

several computer-user interfaces used to simulate the

senses. Among these, are stereoscopic glasses to make the

simulated world look real, a 3D auditory display to give

depth to sound, sensor lined gloves to simulate tactile

feedback, and head-trackers to follow the orientation of the

head. Since the technology is fairly young, these

interfaces have not been perfected, making for a somewhat

cartoonish simulated reality.

Stereoscopic vision is probably the most important

feature of VR because in real life, people rely mainly on

vision to get places...