Important questions and answers about virtual reality. A neurosurgeon walks around a 3D model of the brain to prepare in detail for surgery. An IT specialist examines a complex piston pump from the inside. A young man balances on a rope across a ravine. There are countless scenarios that can be experienced in virtual reality, or VR for short. The technology is used in medicine, psychology and the automotive industry. Isolated cases? Or real change? How much potential there really is in the application.
Briefly explained: Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) refers to an artificial reality created by special hardware and software. Experts also call them synthetic worlds. It is a computer-generated three-dimensional space designed to offer people new visual possibilities.
VR describes the technology behind this experience. A visit to past cultures, a tour of a new house: VR allows users to experience a computer-generated, interactive virtual environment in real time.
To do this, the user must wear a VR helmet or VR glasses, usually with headphones. He or she controls the experience through movement. Sensors translate this movement. There are practically no limits to the virtual environment.
The development of VR technologies began in the 1990s. The first successful products for virtual reality in the video game industry were the Wii Remote or the Play Stations Move/Eye. These can map the player’s gestures and movements on the game console. Currently, there are two classes of VR devices on the market:
High-end headsets like Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, co-designed by game developer Valve, which connect to a traditional PC.
Mobile headsets such as Google Daydream, Samsung GearVR or the cardboard Google Cardboard, which are significantly cheaper and work with smartphones.
Technologies and areas of application
In VR, there are usually certain forms of interaction, even if it is only in the sense of physical movement through the virtual world. For interaction with objects, special input devices are needed in addition to video or VR glasses, such as a 3D mouse and data glove. Virtual reality plays a role in education and training (use of flight or operation simulators), in information transfer (education regarding factory farming or construction projects) and in entertainment (exploration of and testing in adventure and fantasy worlds, locomotion with race cars and roller coasters, stimulation via pornography).
The application areas of VR systems are:
- Digital production
- Sales and marketing
- Different user groups can be addressed.
In product development
When designing a machine, three factors must be taken into account: people, technology and organization. A VR system makes it possible to integrate and analyze these factors simultaneously. VR systems can be used from planning to commissioning of a new product or process.
The simulation of workflows and movements when different perspectives are applied, as well as the possibility of interaction within a VR system, provide the basis for their comprehensive analysis.
This enables the identification of:
- collision hazards and inaccessibilities
- non-ergonomically designed machines
- suboptimal working methods
As a result, necessary adjustments to the design of the machine can be made in a short time.
Typically, the design process requires the design of several variants and their evaluation to determine the optimal solution. The determination of the optimal variant can be visualized, simulated, compared, evaluated and modified in a short time with the help of a VR system.
This simplifies the decision-making process and allows the optimal variant to be determined more quickly.
The reduction in planning effort has a direct impact on development costs and time as well as a possible saving on physical prototypes.
For the end customer
VR systems allow the end customer to interact with the products and serve as a complementary source of information. Virtual tours of production halls are also possible, in which the customer experiences the assembly line “on site.” In this way, he can get to grips with the production or the products, which often results in increased enthusiasm.
VR systems uniquely enable interactive familiarization in the education and training of employees with new products (technical specifications or working methods) and work processes (assembly or maintenance). Even before the final product flows through the assembly line or a new plant is built, employees can be trained interactively.
Training with VR systems also allows for the presentation of unusual scenarios that may pose a risk to employees or create additional costs for employers. Human error and accidents in the workplace can be prevented through regular training.
One study shows that VR-based training can improve knowledge retention by up to 28.5%.
Criticism and outlook
Immersion, the experience of being immersed in virtual reality, can be enriching and disturbing. During its duration, normal reality is pushed back to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the degree, and it can be difficult and costly to return to and re-enter it, which may be the subject of technology and information ethics. Some users become dizzy, especially when artificial and actual motion or acceleration diverge. The economic significance of virtual reality and mixed reality is high when one thinks of the different application areas and systems (not only hardware, but also software) and the commitment of providers and users.