New (to me) technologies: Virtual Reality

Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t really know much about Virtual Reality (VR) at all, beyond the idea that there are headsets out there. However, the last couple of weeks, virtual reality seems to have featured pretty heavily.

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Our idea of keeping current with technology

First, our lab group has a weekly meeting where we alternate talking about science with talking about our personal hobbies. One of the guys in the team gave a presentation on his virtual reality gaming set up. Man, this was intense. He has permanently sectioned off part of his lounge to act as his gaming space – a 4×3 m grid (roughly 14×10 ft). It involves a complex set up of cameras strung from his ceiling, and then the headset. He walked us through the pros and cons of a tethered headset vs untethered, the different types of handheld controllers and gloves, dealing with the screen door effect,  the role of pixel size and a million other factors. I was surprised to find you can only play for an hour or so before the mask becomes unbearably sweaty. He showed us around a couple of his games. It seemed interesting but a little like the games were designed to showcase the technology rather than just use it as a function. A bit like some of the 3D movies that have extravagant swooping scenes.

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My last “VR” experience

Next, I was invited to attend a Medical Technology conference, where a whole session was dedicated to the use of VR in a medical setting. VR has had a really positive effect on preparing children for MRI by showing them what the experience will be like. Someone asked if the kids can use VR as a distraction during an MRI, but of course metal headsets and giant magnets don’t mix well. Another use of the technology is for people who have had spinal cord injuries. A home type environment is created and they use a specially built controller, similar to one found on a motorized wheelchair, to navigate around. The idea is that this technology will help the transition from hospital to home. There were some unexpected side effects of this system. Nearly all users reported vomiting or feeling nauseous. It turns out the sliding motion of the wheelchair in the VR is very disorienting and causes motion sickness. The signals from your eyes are giving opposite information to the systems used to balance your body. So clearly there is a way to go in improving the technology for this use.

So it’s rather fitting that the most recent book I’ve finished reading is Virtual Heaven by 51dGe42Xt0L._SY346_Taylor Kole (published 30 Nov 2017, 465 pages). This book explores the development of a virtual reality system. The main protagonist, Alex Cutler, is a programmer and later becomes an owner of this system called the Lobby. It’s a virtual reality world accessed by jacking in, in a style very reminiscent of The Matrix. There’s even a wee reference to Neo in there. Once in the virtual world, the person loses any limitations they have on Earth. At first this is just a single access point, basically a place for rich people to spend their holidays, but over time it is globalized. Problems start when a visitor dies whilst visiting the Lobby, but remains alive inside the Lobby. This news leaks to the public with devastating consequences.

What I really enjoyed about this book was seeing the development of the Lobby over time. New worlds to visit were added as the book progressed, and the function of the Lobby grew. Through the characters, the author explores some of the morality issues associated with the technology, and the possibility of it becoming an addiction, even before the complication of it becoming a “virtual heaven”. The conflict between the characters on how to overcome the issue of the death in the Lobby seemed completely believable, as did the government intervention. I don’t want to give too much away, but I was rather surprised by the turn of events in the last couple of chapters, and safe to say, I didn’t see it ending the way it did.

It will be interesting to see how virtual reality technology develops over the next couple of years, and whether it makes the jump from being predominately a gaming tool to something with much wider use.

What are your thoughts on where Virtual Reality is headed?

27 thoughts on “New (to me) technologies: Virtual Reality

  1. One of my fave Iain Banks books, Surface Detail, has a major plot element that revolves around virtual afterlife (and by crikey it’s extreme). Definitely worth checking out.
    As for feeling nauseous using VR headsets, I think I need to give it a go. I had an inner ear virus about 5-6 years ago that knocked out a large chunk of my balance organs and consequently I rely on visual cues very heavily, to the extent that if I shut my eyes and try to walk heel-to-toe, well, basically I can’t; it’s too terrifying.
    BUT, it also means I can’t get dizzy. You know those home videos of people spinning around and then trying to kick a ball or run off somewhere and they just fall over? Has no effect on me. It is an actual super-power. At some point I may be able to defy criminals or save the world by not being dizzy while everyone else is toppling over.
    So perhaps I need to get a VR headset and explore new worlds (I may need a more powerful pc though). Talking of new worlds, my super-power also means that I wouldn’t get space sick either. I wonder if I could get a ride up to the International Space Station…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We have Surface Detail on our shelves so I’ll definitely give it a try.

      I’m desperately trying to envision a superhero that saves the world through not getting dizzy…sorry I don’t think it’s going to work. But maybe you could escort kids on fairground rides so the rest of us don’t have to haha.

      Btw I apparently a relatively recent graphics card should do the trick. VR seems to be less computing power heavy than I’d expected.

      As long as they don’t offer you a one way trip to Mars you should be all good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I dunno – if there was a bomb on the waltzers and it needed to be disarmed, I might be the man to do it. I’d obviously need some bomb disposal training too, but let’s not put a downer on my superhero hopes.
        I’ve already upgraded my pc with extra RAM & graphics card – it was originally Vista out of the box and although it’s now Win 7 I can’t get it to upgrade to Win 10. If someone releases a good combat flight sim game for VR that would be a great incentive to upgrade the whole thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, VR and 3D technology have come a long way from the days of the military developed Stereoscopic viewing devices used to help brief pilots showing them 3D images of maps and photos of the targets they were about to attack (that’s where the venerable View Master shown above originated from!)
    The medical uses of VR is unbelievable too. Virtual operating rooms for student surgeons to train in, Virtual Doctors conducting procedures and assessments from around the globe..just amazing.
    Back to VR fiction, there is also the Total Recall franchise but I still think our home PC’s may struggle to create fully photorealistic renditions of worlds, but we are getting closer (though just not on my laptop 😦 )
    One final “Virtual Reality” thing I’d like to mention, virtual fantasy mapping! I am still working on a map using AutoREALM and GIMP but I got distracted by The Last Jedi (sorry!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t apologise! I’m glad to hear you are still working on it. I saw your review of The Last Jedi. Looks like a great film. Mr NW and I will probably see it over the holidays. Oh and Happy Birthday 🎂

      On VR in the medical field, it definitely has lots of uses but possibly augmented reality will become the go to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I said in my mini review there will be moments/ideas that long-term fans may find hard to accept or adapt to, but as a movie/piece of art/spectacle it is hard to fault. In true Star Wars style what you will think of the film will depend “on your point of view”. I hope you both enjoy it.
        The map is a pain I have discovered, Trying to get convincing looking textures at a decent resolution and scale is hard. I might have something to show after Christmas!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Why thank you, for the recommendation (and the compliment!) I have seen the Lenovo VR Lightsaber and was interested but again it is pricey. The biggest reason it caught my attention however is that I used to chat with an employee who worked with Industrial Light and Magic (George Lucas’ special effects company) on their VR project. My friend actually animated C-3PO for a couple of shots in the TFA movie and a lot of the footage seen in this video:

        A lot of people just buy the Lenovo as a slightly cheaper way of getting a copy of the original lightsaber! Thanks again, I’m blushing now.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can see VR being huge in the medical field, but for gaming I think it has a long way to go before it can be commonplace. I think of VR in the same way that I think of 3d tvs/movies. It is a fad that didn’t seem to really take off to well. Trying to predict if a certain tech will succeed has never been my strong point,nor most other peoples’ it would seem 🙂 And sometimes a tech gets used in ways that nobody thought of and bam, it’s successful in ONLY that way and not the originally intended form. Definitely a fun thing to watch as it plays out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Subaru didn’t pick well either. Our car has a completely useless minidisc player in it. I don’t think there is a single minidisc left on the planet.

      It’s hard to overcome the gimmicky nature of 3D and VR, I’m still failing to see any really major applications, but as I said to For Tyeth, maybe augmented reality is the one to watch. But I wouldn’t bet any money on it (though I’m guessing you’re not a gambler ever ☺️)!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha, our subaru doesn’t even have a cd or tape player. Just a radio. The joys of buying old used cars 🙂

        Yeah, not a gambler. Not even lottery tickets. And I agree with you, I just don’t see how a lot of this stuff is going to really affect our lives. But that is what is so fun, watching it all shake out 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I just used VR for first time last week, a rollercoaster simulation. A coworker pushed me around the store. I was sick all day from it. Thanks for informing me that’s a common issue.
    Also, thank you for the kind words about Virtual Heaven. I’m moved.
    If anyone would like to read it for free, it’s on my website, http://taylorkole.com

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I have some mixed thoughts about virtual reality myself and I have read a few books on it, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Arena by Holly Jennings, and I know there are more out there. Most of them have very advanced tech. Not the kind where you put on a headset and are good to go, but you can add gloves and full bodysuits or you lay in a bed and your mind is transported. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that people do not discuss when talking about virtual reality, but they are very important to bring about. (Arena brings about some of these discussions.)

    1) The inability to discern reality from virtual because the virtual at some point has become so advanced that people see, feel, and maybe even smell and hear what is going on. Thus it’s so lifelike that people forget which is which and can become addicted to it. They may even potentially be unable to discern what’s real and what’s not and start acting out their game life (perhaps fighting. perhaps racing. perhaps adventuring) in the real world with the very real consequences.

    2) Addiction is very important. We already see hobby addictions nowadays, but if people eat in the game, they may forget to disconnect and eat in real life. They may decide not to sleep. Things could get very complicated and very dangerous.

    3) Depending on the set-up and the technology, there is the possibility of being hacked and with the interface tapping into one’s brain, there is the potential for very real, very dangerous consequences as are shown in the anime, Sword Art Online.

    Frankly, I think virtual reality is amazing. However, I am actually afraid that I would become one of those people who are addicted to VR and never want to return to the real world. Heck, I already get some of that with books and tv shows which make my real life feel so boring and mundane. However, my mind is still able to discern that books and tv are not real and therefore I’m able to force myself back into reality and do the things I need to do.

    That being said, I do think there could be some fantastic applications of VR and I hope they find a way to remedy the problems they are having and make sure to never allow actual brain connections. But I guess I’m just a scifi nerd who spends too much time reading about the extreme consequences of advanced tech. :p

    Liked by 2 people

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