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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality. What is it and what are its uses?

Virtual Reality is a computer technology that uses realistic images, sounds and other sensations to  replicate a real environment or an imaginary setting to make the user feel he is really present in the simulated environment so that he sees, hears  and is able to interact with this space.

How it is done
It is made possible by the use of a head set incorporating video, sound and other technology using computer science. It owes its availability to the computer age and is one of the most important methods of the 20th century. Two companies, HTC and Valve Corporation, produced it.

Its history
Its concept has been there and used in films in the mid-1900s but it really owes its advancement to the computer age. We can all remember the early ‘infant’ of 3D viewing by View master glasses. With the advent of computer technology the method improved by leaps and bounds but strangely it never ‘took off’ as predicted. However its use is expected to be more and more sought after in the future with the relentless advancement of computer technology and its use in cinema production and games.

Its uses and applications
Its commercial use in films and games for entertainment, and its use in games arcades as found in California are well known. We can also socialise by VR, we can do business, we can have a prior view of, for example, where we shall go on holiday and we can even ‘meet’ our relations on the other side of the world with a realistic effect of them being in the same space as ourselves and with modern equipment even the sensation of touch can be brought into the experience.

In Medicine, it is used in the treatment of pain. Morphine is said to relieve 20% of pain but VR uses scenes of ice and snow to immerse the patient in, so that his or her pain is felt as a cold sensation with immediate and complete relief without the disadvantages of drug therapy.
It can be used in the treatment of drug addiction and phobias where VR is used to put the subject in such an environment that he can imagine a completely different situation, for e.g. a phobia for flying being cured by VR bringing the subject to get into the plane and experiencing safety and comfort and absence of danger. Hence in phobia treatment it is done by repeatedly exposing the patient to the feared situation and showing that no harm takes place. 
It has been used in the training of surgeons where a 360-degree view of the operation is provided by VR thus allowing subject to get a closer and more realistic appreciation of the operation. The fist VR surgery took place in Oxford. Remote control surgery has been performed by VR using a robot doing the surgery in one place and the direction coming from a real surgeon in a remote situation, even another country. For anxiety disorders it is equivalent to seeing a therapist face to face but cheaper. Why has it not been used to a greater extent? It has been the cost to some extent but in 2 to 3 years it is expected to be cheaper and more freely available.  Your smart phone can also deliver it!
Work has been made easier by VR where a person could work from home while feeling he is in the office environment with colleagues giving one the benefit of being in the same space. Thus one can be in two places at once with VR.
It is used in immersive Journalism where VR makes the reporter feel that he is, for instance in a jungle with a bear in front of him and hearing the roar making it more realistic for the reporter and viewer.
The Travel Industry is going to use it to sell e.g. Holidays where the customer is shown the actual place with scenes, sounds and touch e.g. feeling of the breeze on oneself and seeing the sun shine using VR to give him a 360 view plus a physical experience.

What are the disadvantages?
We’ll end up living in a virtual world. The personal touch the eye contact, the feedback are all going to be lost to some extent. The projection however is that it will not have the take up of the level of smart phones. The latter was one and a half billion but VR take up is projected to be in the tens of millions range.  But the potential is great.
It has been used in the present time to give subjects a virtual trip tothe past for example to be virtually transported to a Museum of 500 years ago to experience looking at art of that era as if it were happening now.
It is expected that VR, which is a technique of the late 20th century, is about to take off in the next 2 to 3 years!

Sent by Zita Perera Subasinghe

References: Programmes on BBC Radio, Accounts on Wikipedia and other Internet sites.


I would like to acknowledge and thank Mahendra (Speedy) for his expertise in formatting text, converting the image to correct format and even correcting mistakes in my article. It is not often that one can get this sort of service and I am truly grateful to him.


  1. Always a pleasure to help and support Zita

  2. I experienced a few examples of VR yesterday at the New Scientist Live event at Excel London. I became a sufferer with Alzheimer's and walked down a street as "I" described (broadcast to my headphones),the problems I had finding my way and recognizing people. It was quite an experience although the visual quality of the environment I was " in " was not good enough to make it feel really "real". The second one was a ride in the new Hydrogen Powered Toyota. There were some more exhibits which I will try today.

  3. There's nothing to beat one's own experience. And you are making us look out for this in our day to day lives. Thanks! In a way, I think those good narrators amongst us probably launch themselves into the environment they are talking about, making it more real to the listener. May be some of our old professors and lecturers had the knack of doing this. That's when we actually 'lived' what we were being told and those thoughts still live with us. Zita

  4. Zita
    Thank you for that fine account about VR. True Reality will be an endangered species !!

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