Virtual reality (VR) is a computer technology that uses virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments, sometimes in combination with physical environments or props, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to “look around” the artificial world, and with high quality, VR moves around in it and interact with virtual features or items. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens.
VR systems that include transmission of vibrations and other sensations to the user through a game controller or other devices are known as haptic systems. This tactile information is generally known as force feedback in medical, video gaming and military training applications. Virtual reality also refers to remote communication environments which provide a virtual presence of users with through telepresence and telexistence or the use of a virtual artifact (VA). The immersive environment can be similar to the real world in order to create a lifelike experience grounded in reality or sci-fi. Augmented reality systems may also be considered a form of VR that layers virtual information over a live camera feed into a headset or through a smartphone or tablet device.
All modern VR displays are based on technology developed for smartphones including gyroscopes and motion sensors for tracking head, hand, and body positions; small HD screens for stereoscopic displays; and small, lightweight and fast processors. These components led to relative affordability for independent VR developers, and lead to the 2012 Oculus Rift Kickstarter offering the first independently developed VR headset.
Healthcare and clinical therapies
According to a recent report from Goldman Sachs, healthcare could be one of the next markets that VR/AR disrupts.Already, VR devices are being used in clinical therapy, and the results are significant.
Health and safety
There are many health and safety considerations of virtual reality. Most virtual reality systems come with consumer warnings, including seizures; developmental issues in children; trip-and-fall and collision warnings; discomfort; repetitive stress injury; and interference with medical devices.
A number of unwanted symptoms have been caused by prolonged use of virtual reality, and these may have slowed proliferation of the technology. Virtual reality sickness (also known as cybersickness) occurs when a person’s exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms that are similar to motion sickness symptoms. The most common symptoms are general discomfort, headache, stomach awareness, nausea, vomiting, pallor, sweating, fatigue, drowsiness, disorientation, and apathy. Other symptoms include postural instability and retching. Virtual reality sickness is different from motion sickness in that it can be caused by the visually induced perception of self-motion; real self-motion is not needed. It is also different from simulator sickness; non-virtual reality simulator sickness tends to be characterized by oculomotor disturbances, whereas virtual reality sickness tends to be characterized by disorientation. A 2016 publication assessed the effects of exposure to 2D vs 3D dissection videos on nine pathology resident physicians, using self-reported physiologic symptoms. Watching the content in 3D vs 2D did not increase simulator sickness. Although the average simulator sickness questionnaire score did increase with time, statistical analysis does not suggest significance.
The persistent tracking required by all VR systems makes the technology particularly useful for, and vulnerable to, mass surveillance. The expansion of VR will increase the potential and reduce the costs for information gathering of personal actions, movements, and responses. In networked VR spaces with capacity for public interaction, there is the potential for unexpected modifications of the environment.