Interactive virtual reality is a type of human-computer interaction in which people can relate to and learn from simulated environments. Virtual reality, in its simplest sense, is any computer-generated version of real life. When it is interactive, users can participate — that is, they can do more than just observe the surroundings, but can actually manipulate them. This sort of technology is most popular in defense and medical training, but also has extensions to sales and marketing, corporate interactions, and entertainment.
Advanced computer technology and the rising prevalence of Internet connectivity are two of the driving forces behind interactive virtual reality systems. The technology can be used in a lot of ways for a variety of purposes, but the main thrust of any experience is to allow users to participate in real time in forums that do not exist outside of the computer realm. In short, they allow people to touch, feel, and see things that only exist digitally.
There are several different types of interactive virtual reality, some of which require more hardware than others. In the most basic systems, cameras and other recording mechanisms place users within a computer-generated world that users can interact with on screen. More advanced systems block out real life, placing participants wholly within the virtual setting. This type of program usually requires the use of special virtual-vision headsets, and often also tactile-transmitters known as haptic systems.
Nearly every virtual reality environment, no matter how advanced, employs stereoscopic displays to make simulated environments and other graphics appear in three dimensions. This is usually achieved by layering visuals in stacked proportions that the human right and left eyes interpret slightly differently, resulting in the brain’s translating them as multi-dimensional. Displays can be limited to graphics on a computer or television screen, but are more commonly projected such that users actually feel in the midst of them.
Militaries around the world are some of the largest consumers — and developers — of interactive virtual reality platforms. By creating virtual worlds of aircraft piloting, war zone navigation, and complex strategy, participants can receive enormous quantities of hands-on training without ever leaving a secure office. The technology allows soldiers and trainees to seemingly enter into computer realms where life-like scenarios play out. Experiences often seem real, with responsive controls and intense graphics. There is no risk of injury, however, which keeps costs down and removes the risk of lives lost to training.
Interactive virtual realities are also gaining popularity in the medical sciences. Doctors can explore and “operate” on virtual hearts, brains, and other organs in ways that perfect their skills but do not actually involve real patients. Dynamic digital images of the human body are also excellent means of training and explanation for medical students and doctors in more remote locations.
Virtual realities can also be employed in the corporate sector. Sales and marketing professionals can invite potential clients to virtually interact with new products. This is particularly beneficial where cars and other complex technologies are concerned. In an augmented reality, buyers can experience products without actually using them in fixed form.
The growing technology of telepresence can also allow corporate organizations to group employees, no matter where situated, into meetings and other seminars. Computer-simulated environments for meetings save travel costs as well as physical overhead and often require little more than the appropriate software and an Internet connection. Entertainment companies are also latching onto the technology, offering a host of games and worlds where players can interact with each other and their simulated environments. Interactive virtual reality games offer players a host of chances for escape, most without leaving the living room.