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The Technology Behind Virtual Reality

—Houston, Texas

Virtual Reality (VR) allows us to immerse ourselves in a completely different world. Roam through an enchanted forest or rewind time and experience the history of Rome. In order to do this, we use VR technology to create an illusion for our mind.

Headsets use motion sensors that track head movement, called input tracking, and gyroscopes to measure stability and orientation. For the digital display to be realistic, the best frame rate is at 95 frames per second and has a low latency so that the person’s actions are immediately transferred to the virtual environment. Furthermore, there are two separate displays for the left and right eye as well as stereo speakers to emit differentiated audio. The controllers use infrared cameras for navigation and incorporate haptic feedback for increased engagement through specific vibrations. VR has become more easily accessible through the use of cell phones. Because cell phones have internal gyroscopes, they are perfect for VR. Headsets that are compatible with mobile phones are cheaper than those that have their own display. They simply have two magnifying lenses to enlarge the phone screen and reach the central and peripheral view.

Virtual reality, VR, VR headset, motion sensors, VR hand controllers
Sensors mounted on walls track head and arm movements.

The brain has the perception that VR is actually real life, so some people are at risk of experiencing motion sickness. A person’s senses could be tricked due to their eyes not syncing with their ears’ center of gravity, which is the internal balancing system of the body. Motion sickness can also occur when the framerate is not high enough or if there is a lag between movement and the reaction of the VR program. To solve this problem, new and innovative technology has increased frame rate and provided better visual feedback from movement. Despite the drawback that is currently being resolved, VR has many benefits.

We mainly associate VR with video games and entertainment; it can transport us out of reality and into an imaginary world. Disney uses similar VR methods through rides such as Avatar Flight of Passage or Soarin’ which also uses scents, water, and wind to completely immerse the viewers. However, it can also be useful for simulating an educational task. For example, NASA uses virtual reality to train their astronauts for the International Space Station. In addition, doctors may use VR to simulate surgeries and practice their hand-eye coordination.

VR, Virtual Reality, VR simulation
A person is using VR to learn how to drive.

VR will become completely wireless and improved haptic technology will one day imitate the exact senses we experience in real life. As the future progresses, it will become difficult to distinguish between the material and artificial worlds.

Want to transport yourself to another domain? Check out the STEM·E youtube videos and podcasts!
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