I’ll start this post by admitting that I am not an expert in virtual reality. Does it count that I have watched the Matrix? And by the way, what is the matrix? I confess that I’m a fan of the deeper meanings of the movies but what does this have to do with virtual reality? Well, nothing, if you exclude the effect it has had on a worldwide audience. Suddenly, the concept of virtual reality moves to the level of matching reality. The old jerky clumsy virtual reality environments are nothing compared to the ideal world of “The Matrix”.
Our imaginations are now fed by a higher level of expectations. Even though we know that these kind of technologies are likely decades off (based on current rates of advancement), we still dream of the day that we can control our realities to the point that they are as real as what we are used to.
Until then we will need to live with our existing technologies and research with the ultimate goal in the distant future.
This brings up the question as to why we need virtual reality in the first place. Being a non-expert will show up here for those of you that are really paying attention. The most common use case for virtual reality will continue to be entertainment. This has been going on probably since the late 80’s and given the size of the gaming industry, this is a strong and powerful contender for pushing the technology forward. In virtual reality (which technically could be broadened to include many non-VR models), we are looking to do something that would either be impossible or risky for the sake of a thrill. This could range from a full scale flight simulator (really for work, right?) to an amusement ride with hydraulics that really doesn’t go anywhere. It might be an IMAX theater with 3d goggles or it could even be the full head gear with the gloves. The point is that the field is pretty wide right now but the goal is the same. Every one of these techniques is trying to convince you that you are no longer in the reality that you know. It is trying to impress you with its expanded abilities in a field that you would normally never see.
There is a subtle but important difference between virtual reality and something like telepresence. Virtual reality is completely fabricated whereas telepresence is constructed from reality. What I propose will happen before true “Matrix” style VR will happen is that “composite reality” will take hold first. Composite reality is the concept that elements of reality and virtual reality will be merged into a unified experience. In many ways this makes more sense than a isolated virtual reality system, assuming that VR cannot duplicate the level of input of reality. It strengthens the experience without the cost of full simulation. The example I would give is that you could be driving somewhere and elements of somewhere else or completely virtual could be ported into your view. It would be possible to have a full conversation in your car with the sense that they are sitting right next to you (or the back seat if you don’t want them that close). The person would actually be located somewhere else. Likewise, the other person would sense that you are with them in their car (or wherever they happen to be). The image of the people could themselves be composite. Most likely it would be necessary to adjust positions of the body to fit the contour of the distant environment. I guess a ghost like appearance would be a compromise.
The summary of this that it looks like composite technology is coming first and it will make VR more accepted based on the raised expectations. I remember reading that someone had applied for patents on using ultrasounds to trigger brain reactions that would simulate sensory input. It looks like we are on our way. All I hope for is the limited need large probes into the brain. 🙂