Technology is, without a doubt, the talk of the century. The rapid advancements of machinery, crafts, arts, and means of production, a product of human ingenuity, have changed the face of humankind. Things that were mere dreams are now possible thanks to the sheer power of human will. Then, it becomes possible thinking of constant innovation as one of the humankind’s main characteristics. Computing and machines have existed for centuries, and engines such as Babbage’s foreshadowed our modern-day computers; yet, it is only during the twentieth century –one of the most innovative in all history– that computing became what it is now, probably thanks to the last century’s constant wars and conflicts.
Virtual Reality, VR in short, is the desire of recreating real life in computer-based environments. Virtual reality is a type of reality where the real blends with what is generated. It replaces the physical surroundings with digital representations that recreate. Thus, while the term predates its usage in computing, as it was used as a theater metaphor (Schnipper, 2017), the meaning is the same and expresses the illusions that can become reality.
By the same token, the precursors of VR hail from the first half of the twentieth century. tried to convey not only visual but also olfactory and sensory representations. For instance, the Sensorama from the 1950s enticed all senses but the taste and became one of the first real applications of VR. Nevertheless, the project was not carried further and most of VR applications became novelties and entertainment or gaming devices.
However, it is during the 1990s that the interest in VR rekindled, particularly because of the computing advancements that made it possible. The Virtual Reality Modelling Language, first introduced in 1994, allowed developers to create immersive virtual models for a myriad of applications that are not necessarily related to the entertainment industry. Military and medical industry are two of the industries that have benefited from VR, the first because it allows soldiers to train and prepare themselves for conflicts in a safer environment and the second for the same reason. By using immersive VR, both professionals can train without the added human costs, becoming better by using technology that replicates real conditions.
From that perspective, virtual reality has become a cost-effective tool to study and replicate interactions. From the medical and military standpoint, it helps to see how prospective professionals could act during a particular situation, performing a psychological and sociological role of seeing and envisioning the effects of their actions. For instance, a VR model of a surgical room or an operating theater might be enough to tell a medical student that medicine is not what it expected or, on the contrary, it could teach it finesse with the scalpel. The same happens with a soldier, a person that hours of virtual training could help when facing an actual stressful situation.
Likewise, the development of new techniques that also give computer images of the body has changed the way virtual reality faces medicine, as it allows medical professionals to obtain high-quality images that are useful. Thus, the possibility of improving one’s understanding of the body and the human behavior is one of the less tapped applications of VR or, at least, one of the ones that has received less press time.
Ultimately, the possibilities of VR are as vast as the advancements of human society. In less than twenty years, computer scientists have developed increasingly lifelike models and the trend is only setting. In a few years, it is more than likely that more and more disciplines start using virtual reality to see things from a safe distance and train people before real accidents could happen. In the military and medical fields, VR has been incredibly helpful, helping individuals experience the conditions of the field before being there.
- Schnipper, M. (2017). Seeing Is Believing: The State of Virtual Reality. Retrieved October 29, 2017, from https://www.theverge.com/a/virtual-reality/intro