The concepts of virtual reality have been around for quite some time. In fact, researchers have studied ideas of the three-dimensional world since the late 1950s. The ideals of virtual reality did not surface into our society until the late 1980s. Today, virtual environments are used in many different capacities. In this paper, research will show the positive impacts of virtual reality when it is applied to sports training, physical rehabilitation, and on the job training. Logically, virtual reality means simulated truth. The technical definition of virtual reality is simply described as a three-dimensional, computer generated environment in which a person can interact in a simulated environment. Commonly, virtual reality is referred to as virtual environment. Most virtual experiences require certain equipment that will allow the visual and sound effects needed to stimulate the user’s senses. A helmet is a traditional head piece and is also known as a head-mounted display (HDM) or glasses which will display the three-dimensional images as a part of their experience.
There are some systems that allow a person to have the ability to feel and touch objects in the virtual environment. This environment requires a glove. The VR that simulates mental data rather than physical space has about it a different flavor than the VR that allows us to explore or control the surface of the moon (Heim, 2000). Systems that allow users to interact using the sense of touch are known as Baptic Systems (Strickland, 2011). Virtual reality is a multi-sensory experience. Stimuli such as sounds, images, and even touch can make any virtual experience seem like reality. Virtual environments can be a multiple interactive experience. Users that interact have the ability to be in the same room or they can be miles apart. The virtual world is endless. If an environment can be imagined, it can also be built. These defining characteristics of virtual reality boil down to the “three I’s” of VR: immersion, interactivity, and information intensity (Heim, 2000). Immersion is a whole body virtual experience that makes the user feel like the virtual works is a real world. VR immersion gives the feeling of plunging into another world (Heim, 2000).
According to Jonathan Steuer (1992), immersion is made up of two concepts: depth of information and breadth of information. Depth of information is the quality of data received during a simulation or interaction. This can include, but is not limited to: the resolution of the display unit, the quality of graphics and the effectiveness of video and audio output. Breadth of information is defined as the number of sensory dimensions presented simultaneously during a simulation or interaction. Steuer also describes Interactivity as the extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time. The information intensity of virtual reality allows a special experience called “telepresence” (Heim, 2000). Telepresense is the natural perception of a simulated environment. There are many people who are now able to benefit off of the advancement of three-dimensional environments.
Virtual environments allow students and employees the ability to train and learn in non-traditional environments which promotes enthusiasm towards learning. Sports teams are also taking advantage of technology by using virtual reality to create real-life game simulation for training purposes. Teams have also used virtual reality to help the physical rehabilitation of injured players. In sports training in all sports, through the technological advancements of three-dimensional worlds, teams have the ability to build real-life game simulation for potential players and to use for day to day training. Depending on the simulated sport, the impacts of physical and visual immersion can require tactile and/or force feedback. This feedback not only creates realism by compensating for muscular movements or indicating contact with objects, but also is required to keep the virtual world from colliding with the real world possibly causing an injury.
The potential economic benefits of merging sports and virtual reality are lucrative. The exercise bike has already had one commercially successful venture in the VR direction, the LifeCycle, which can be found in most any upscale fitness center. (Dohm & Withrow). The purpose of physical rehabilitation is to help a patient recovering from an injury or surgery lower the impact of physical limitations. Depending on the injury, physical rehabilitation can be a long, tiresome, and painful task. Virtual rehabilitation has recently been used in various therapies that help reduce pain, reduce stress, build or re-build physical skills and for overall rehabilitation. Virtual rehabilitation is an application that integrates VR with rehabilitation and represents the provision of therapeutic interventions locally or at a distance, using VR hardware and simulations. The high flexibility and programmability of VR enable a therapist to set a variety of controlled stimuli, monitor patients’ responses in the virtual rehabilitation, and offer clinical assessment and rehabilitation options that are lacking in traditional methods (Chen, Jeng, Fung, Doong, & Chuang, 2009).
There are many job industries that now incorporate virtual reality into their core foundation by using virtual environments in on the job training. A few industries that have successfully implemented virtual training include: police and military forces, large corporations, and architectural and land developers. Each industry uses the world of three-dimensions to develop employees. Simulators are a standard training tool used in law enforcement, the military and medicine, and those systems work for the U.S. Army because of rigorous standards and oversight, according to the head of an Army simulation training agency (Smith, 2012). According to Smith (2012), the Matrix StIM, ExpeditionDI, EST (Engagement Skills Trainer) 2000 and InForce are all systems used in law enforcement and military training that create virtual environments. In the business world, virtual corporations connect teams of workers located across the country (Heim, 2000).
An example of virtual business would be all work from home opportunities. Working from home is a fast growing commodity in business. Employees can now communicate virtually on conference calls through voice and video interaction. Lastly, virtual environments can help create land development for architects and developers. Computer-based programs can simulate life like images of a building project. Simulation is the no-risk way of gaining experience before making any investments and elegant alternative to costly and time-consuming series of tests (Dodgson, Gann, & Salter, 2005). There have been challenges noted in the development of virtual reality.
The big challenges in the field of virtual reality are developing better tracking systems, finding more natural ways to allow users to interact within a virtual environment and decreasing the time it takes to build virtual spaces (Strickland, 2011). Building systems with improper ergonomics poses challenges as well. Lastly, according to Strickland (2011), there have been reports of virtual worlds becoming addictive to the user. Users tend to lose their concept of what is real and what is not real.
In conclusion, virtual reality is very technical and complex. However, virtual reality is instrumental in leading to new discoveries that impact our day to day lives. There were only a few industries named that benefit from virtual reality, but there are endless possibilities. Summarizing it all, virtual environments can be used to help a football player’s throwing accuracy, or a vehicle accident victim regain function of a limb and even develop employees through job training or allowing an employee the ability to work from home.
Chen, C.-H., Jeng, M.-C., Fung, C.-P., Doong, J.-L., & Chuang, T.-Y. (2009). Psychological Benefits of Virtual Reality for Patients in Rehabilitation Therapy. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 258-268.
Dodgson, M., Gann, D., & Salter, A. (2005). Think, Play, Do: Innovation, Technology, and Organization. Oxford, GBR: Oxford University Press.
Dohm, C., & Withrow, G. (n.d.). Sports and Fitness.
Heim, M. (2000). Virtual Realism. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press.
Smith, J. (2012, March 26). From Live Scenarios to Virtual Reality, Police/Military Look to Simulators for Training. Retrieved October 18, 2012, from Government Video: http://www.governmentvideo.com
Steuer, J. (1992). Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence. Journal of Communication, 73-93.
Strickland, J. (2011). How Virtual Reality Works. Retrieved October 18, 2012, from how stuff works: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com