A comprehensive explainer on Virtual Reality

Tech Word For The Week is a weekly series where we look to explain commonly used words in the tech ecosystem in a simple, engaging way.

One of the reasons why we read romance books or watch an adventurous and captivating movie is to escape from our immediate environment and experience something different. However, one limitation to these experiences is that we can only imagine or see it without participation.

With Virtual Reality (VR) we can truly go to another world, interact with it and even perform feats that are impossible in our earthly reality. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus Rift said, “VR is a way to escape the real world into something more fantastic. It possesses the potential to be the most social technology of all time.”

Definition of VR

VR is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment which gives the user a feeling similar to interacting with the real world. It uses cutting-edge graphics, best-in-class hardware and artistically rendered experiences to create “virtual” landscapes and environments.

Rather than using smartphones like Augmented Reality (AR) it makes use of headsets and controllers to enable interaction with the virtual world. The better the headsets, sensors, and hardware used in VR experiences, the more immersive it becomes.

After putting on the headsets, you get to choose an avatar. An avatar is the personality by whose point of view you see and interact with the virtual world. In the virtual world, you are not just a passive onlooker but an active contributor.

Using the technology, you can fly like SuperMan, run like a gazelle, interact with digital objects or visit any part of the world as a digital avatar. It fully immerses you in a 3D world, creating a major shift in how the digital realm is experienced.

VR is different from 3D animations/movies because you are only an onlooker in 3D. VR makes your brain perceive that you’re somewhere else different from your immediate environment. It enables virtual interaction such that rather than being static, you can move forward/backward, run, dance, jump and all sorts of things with your avatar. It is also different from AR.

Practical examples of Virtual Reality startups include

  • 360humans: A Nigerian startup which uses VR to create virtual tours on construction, documentation, etc for real estate developers and consultants to enhance their marketing.
  • EngulfVR: A Nigerian virtual reality development firm that brands VR content for VR marketing, VR training, and VR activations.
  • Vrapeutic: is a research startup based in Egypt that uses virtual reality startup, which specializes in the development of VR-based therapeutic solutions.

History of Virtual Reality

The history of VR can be traced back to 1957, when Morton Heilig, a cinematographer, invented the Sensorama, a theater cabinet multimedia device that gave viewers an interactive experience. Thomas Furness, a military engineer, in 1966, developed the first flight simulator for the Air Force. This ignited interest in VR technology and how it could be used for training purposes.

Developed by MIT in 1978, the Aspen Movie Map used photographs taken from a car in Aspen, Colorado to give viewers what they called a “Surrogate Travel” experience. Later in 1987, John Lanier, a computer scientist, researcher, and artist, coined the term ‘virtual reality’ and developed a range of VR gear, such as the Dataglove, Tom Zimmerman, and the EyePhone HMD.

Georgia Tech and Emory University researchers collaborated in 1997 to create Virtual Vietnam which used virtual reality to simulate war zones to assist in therapy sessions for veterans’ treating PTSD.

In 2007 Google enhanced its Maps service with street-level 360-degree images, captured by special cars fitted with custom camera equipment. In 2010 Google’s Street View got a 3D mode. Also, Palmer Lucky created a kit VR headset that anyone can make, and called it “Oculus Rift.”

How VR is transforming the world

Here are some of applicable use cases for VR:

  • Education: Users can step into virtual environments to learn and acquire skills. With VR students can walk through a rainforest and discover different animals and vegetation. New recruits in the military and engineering can also learn to handle equipment risk free.
  • Customer Experience: VR allows startups to take their customers on a virtual tour to demonstrate their products and help the customers experience the products real time. It can also be used to show customers how to use the products.
  • Entertainment: The future of VR can help entertainment industries go from creating gaming products to immersive live concerts, movies and art exhibitions.
  • Tourism and Travel: Some companies began investing in immersive virtual reality travel “trips” to places like Hawaii, Rome, and Paris. The VR experiences include first-class airline tickets with four-course meals, followed by VR tours of the destination’s main sights.

Key Takeaways

  • VR is one of the underlying technologies driving WEB 3.0 and the Metaverse.
  • VR enables interaction with digital objects such that rather than being static, you can move forward/backward, run, dance, jump and all sorts of things with your avatar.

Leave a Comment