Virtual; September 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Laurel; 1 Page(s)
Since the hype began in the mid-1980s, virtual reality (VR) has captivated public interest with pictures of people wearing enormous goggles and sensor-laden gloves. The technologies used to immerse people in a computer-generated world will, however, change radically during the coming decade, making the begoggled cybernaut as quaint an image as the undersea explorer in a heavy metal diving helmet.
The important thing about VR is what it does rather than how its effects are achieved: it permits people to behave as if they were somewhere they are not. That place may be a computational fiction or a re-created environment from another place or time. VR transports perceptions by appealing to several senses at once--sight, hearing and touch--and by presenting images that respond immediately to one's movements. The techniques for creating this illusion differ depending on the kind of place being visited and what a user wants to do while there. A pilot in a flight simulator, for example, might need hydraulic actuators to simulate banks and turns, whereas a molecular biologist exploring the bonds between molecules might need particularly fine position sensors and mechanisms to simulate the "feel" of interatomic forces.