Concept of Virtual Reality
Most of us might have heard or read about this term. I believe quite of us are familiar with it. Still, some of us might not have a clear idea of term Virtual Reality or VR in short. Let me take an opportunity to explain the term and concept of VR.
Let us first understand the term Reality. The literal meaning of reality is the truth, something which exists and has some parameters which can be seen, heard, touched and felt. Technically we ascertain the existence of anything using our senses. If our senses confirm something, we assume it exists. In other words, the reality is something around us which we can see, hear, touch and feel.
There is another definition of reality, our knowledge. We know so many things and places exist, which we have never seen or been there. But we know about them and that’s a reality. But in this context, we would limit ourselves to the first definition of reality. We would consider Reality as an environment around us consisting of things which we can see, hear, touch and feel.
Now let us discuss Virtual. The literal meaning is almost or nearly or nearby. It means that something resembling very close but not exactly similar. Or maybe something so close that it may be considered the same, though it’s not same.
Combining the two gives a near oxymoron term, means two contradicting words with opposite meanings. The reality which is not real. And that’s interesting. The oxymoron nature of this term explains it well. I would discuss this in detail later.
First, let me discuss another form of reality. It’s called imagination. Or maybe I can call it an imaginary reality, another oxymoron term. When an artist starts making a piece of art, he has an image in mind. He first creates imagination and then puts it in physical form. Better the artist, strong would be the imagination. Similarly, when an architect plans a space, he has an image in mind. He creates whole space in imagination and then puts it in real form.
In the above two examples, Reality first takes the form of imagination before becoming a physical truth. This image is so clear and crisp, it’s almost a reality for the artist or architect. This is Virtual Reality, Reality which is so clear and crisp but still not having a physical existence.
An artist would create an art piece to realise his imagination. The architect would create a plan or model. In the field of computers, we create an environment using the software. We create the imagination as software, which can be seen, heard, touched and felt using various hardware.
I hope by know I have been able to explain the concept behind the term Virtual Reality. Now I would discuss techniques of Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality is a very strong medium of presenting an image to users, where users can actually accept that imagination in the nearest form to a physical environment. We create an environment around user and the user feels he is actually in that environment, as in the real world.
Virtual Reality bridges the gaps between imagination and the real world. Or we can say Virtual Reality is a bridge between imagination and the real world.
In VR, we create an imaginary world around the user, which closely resemble the real world. Unlike a plan or model created by an architect’s imagination, we create a space around the user. This space or environment resembles closely to what the real space or environment would be. User can see a map, or see and touch a model. But in VR, user can move inside the space as if moving in the real world. User can navigate with own controls in the environment. He can see around himself in all 360 degrees, means all possible directions. He can hear sounds from various parts of the environment. He can touch the environment. He can feel the environment in virtually the same forms as a real environment. This is Virtual Reality. Welcome.
As imagination has no limits, VR too does not. Imagine any environment, VR can create it. A space like a house, office, hotel, resort. Or a playground. Or a road. Or sea, desert, snow peaks. Or space, alien planets. Or inside molten rocks, over clouds. Or inside the human body, in the heart, intestine, organs, veins. VR can take you anywhere, to the place where you imagine or dream of going, or places where you can never imagine visiting.
Next I would discuss how we do it. We use an array of software to create a 3D model of environment. By environment, I mean all the things we see, hear and feel around us. Like in case of a room, its walls, ceiling, floor, furniture, various other articles, light, view from windows, flowing air and even the dust in air. Believe me, it involves a lot of physics and science and we have to give lot of physical parameters to our models, so that they resemble and behave like real elements.
Once our environment is ready, we test it in various light conditions. Then we create an interface where user can move into the environment. We use computer monitors or mobile screens for user. We also use special tools like VR kits. These are a kind of goggles with screen. Goggles enlarge the view from screen and project on user eyes. User sees a three dimensional view of environment all around them. Special gadgets in the device allow rotating the environment as and when user turns or moves. With special techniques, user can walk into the environment in same form as walking in real world. Most users of VR kits momentarily forget they are just seeing an imaginary world around them. They start believing to be in that world, that’s the power of VR.
This topic would not be complete without discussing more powers of VR. Till now we have limited our discussion to Reality which is nearly real, or virtual. Now we would discuss about more. As we create VR using software, we can add many more dimensions to it. Let’s discuss one more dimension here, the database.
In real world we see things around us. But we have to ask a person his name or address or phone contact or anything. Seldom has a person carried all the info on himself. Similar is with any other thing around us. We have to scout for the database of our environment. In VR, we can embed database of anything present in the environment and our user can access that database by just touching it or any other way he desires. User sees a chair in environment. He touches it and voila, chair comes floating to him. He can turn the chair with a glance of his hand, to any direction, as the chair is floating in air in front of him. Next he touches any part of chair and data would be displayed about that part. Data would be displayed for finishes, textures, material, material ratings and even minute details (like kind of adhesive used, type of screws used) of anything which is required. User would have option to keep data turned off, view a small level of data to go to the depth of database. Whole lot of database available on internet can be embedded in the models.
Similar details can be given to anything present in the environment. We provide a very user friendly and easy interface for all these operations. It’s much easier than even playing a computer game.
To summarise, Virtual Reality is a computer simulation of real environment which gives users a near experience of that environment. We call this Immersive Experience and Immersive Environment. You would come across these terms whenever you would read about VR. Additional powers of VR embed any amount of data to the environment. In this technical world, data makes the world moving. We cannot drive without GPS navigation these days. This means we use assistance of data to travel. Similarly we require data for almost every small part of our life, even we intend to know the calorific value of food we eat.
VR makes data available to your real world. Now it’s up to you to imagine how you can use VR and data to make your world more comfortable and beneficial. I would discuss uses of VR in various forms in later articles.
Let me now discuss about physical reality and how it’s different from Virtual Reality. Physical Reality is a relatively less used term than VR. But its bit more easy to understand. To save some words, I would call sometimes Physical Reality as PR in coming text.
Physical Reality is a technique of bringing a remote or distant environment to the user’s computer, mobile device or his VR kit. Unlike Virtual Reality, where we create the whole environment digitally, we use image of real environment in Physical Reality. We use 360 degree photography or scanning techniques to scan the environment. We put the scanned data as our environment and put our user in it. Once in a Physical Reality environment, user would have same experience as VR environment.
Similar to VR, we can add 4th dimension to PR. We can embed any amount of data to our environment and its components. So in PR, we have brought a distant environment to user and added valuable information to it. Only difference with VR is that we need an actual environment to create a PR. Saying it other way around, if you have an existing environment, we map it, scan it digitally and create a digital copy of it to be used as PR in any form.
PR can be used and accessed in exactly same form as VR. Only difference is VR is a totally imaginary environment existing only digitally whereas PR is digital copy of a real environment.
Augmented Reality is a combination of Virtual Reality and Physical Reality. We scan some of the real environment and we use some of the imaginary digital environment, in technical words, the 3 D models. We combine the two and present an Augmented environment.
This technique is very useful when we want to make changes in existing environment and create different and vivid options of changes. We save time and efforts of creating a virtual environment, instead we scan the existing environment and we add the imagination to it to show changes and augmentations.
Augmented Reality, AR, too can be embedded with database much like VR and PR. It can be viewed in similar forms as VR and PR. But a more common use of VR is mobile devices. User actually augments his own environment, means the environment where he is present at that moment. He adds some VR components to it and visualises it as a new augmented environment. This is Augmented Reality.