Although the buzz surrounding virtual reality and augmented reality has died down a bit, it’s still worth taking a closer look at the technologies. This is because they offer exciting application possibilities, for example by completely transforming the world of learning. In this article, I would therefore like to give an overview of the development and functionality of VR/AR and show how organizations like TÜV Rheinland make use of the possibilities today.
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality (VR) describes a computer-generated reality in the form of 3D images. VR can be transmitted via glasses or headsets, the so-called head mounted displays (HMD), or via large screens in special rooms.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality (AR) is the interface used to enhance reality and existing media with virtual objects, digital content and location-based information. The aim is to create interaction, facilitate the absorption of information and promote active perception while increasing the time spent with an application (according to Dirk Schart’s definition).
How does virtual reality work from a technical perspective?
If you want to experience virtual reality, you need an output device, usually a VR headset for representing the virtual environment. To see 3D objects in a virtual environment, you need both eyes. When the eyes lock onto an object, the angles of the right and left eye differ. This effect is also called stereoscopic vision. The left eye sees less of the right side and the right eye sees less of the left side. The difference is used by the brain for calculating the spatial composition of the object.
Functionality of VR glasses
VR glasses consist of displays, lenses, sensors and 3D audio. Two slightly different images are shown on displays in front of the eyes. A computer program simulates the stereoscopic difference, so that our brain calculates a three-dimensional picture based on the two slightly different images.
Application: Will virtual reality transform the world of learning – and if so, why?
This technology indeed enables a completely new way of learning. One such approach is learning by doing: Thanks to VR, users can try out action and movement sequences in virtual space, for example to learn operating a container crane. Trainees who have already done a course with VR glasses will know how the levers need to be operated when they are in a real-life crane cab.
How do we at TÜV Rheinland use VR and AR?
TÜV Rheinland utilizes AR technology for training purposes. We have developed training programs for the Microsoft Hololens in which safety-relevant content is taught and the seminar participants have to find deficiencies in a virtual forklift truck, for example. This “practical” experience enables us to engage even participants who are not keen on classical training methods. The coach can then see how the individual participants performed.
How do others use VR technology?
The Therme Erding water park in Bavaria is a good example for the application of VR technology in everyday life. Visitors can put on VR glasses on one of the water slides and experience a ride through a virtual jungle. As can be seen in a Youtube video, the virtual world is perfectly adapted to the real slide, making the experience of immersing into the virtual world even more vivid.
What does the future hold in store for VR & AR?
I believe the hype surrounding VR is over. According to the so-called Gartner hype cycle, we are currently in the Trough of Disillusionment. Many hardware manufacturers had hoped to inspire gamers with this technology. But if we look at the VR games market, we can see that although there are VR-based games for PlayStation consoles, the mass market has not yet fully embraced this new way of gaming.
However, things are different with augmented reality, where there is a wide range of applications in the gaming market with Pokemon GO or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and in a business context as well with the Hololens 2 from Microsoft. Currently, however, it is still cumbersome to wear large headsets. This technology will probably reach the Slope of Enlightenment (according to Gartner) if it is integrated into contact lenses, which can provide the wearer with useful additional information in everyday life. This video already shows what this could look like in extreme form in the future:
To sum things up:
On the one hand, VR/AR technology offers fascinating new possibilities and a real additional benefit, for example when it comes to training and continued professional development. On the other hand, it can also be worrying if we humans dive deeper and deeper into a virtual world and run the risk of losing touch with reality. One thing is certain: The future will be very exciting!
Since when does virtual reality exist?
We can only guess what the future will look like, but here’s a look back into the past of VR/AR development:
Back in 1932, American physicist Edwin Herbert Land invented the polarization filter, which is used for 3D films today.
In 1968, Ivan Edward Sutherland developed the first Head Mounted Display (HMD) called The Sword of Damocles, which was so heavy that it had to be attached to the ceiling. The first object ever represented via HMD was a wireframe cube with an edge length of five centimeters.
In 1995, Nintendo entered the VR market. The Nintendo Virtual Boy was an HMD rack that generated a resolution of 384 x 224 pixels using red LEDs on a black background. Virtual Boy proved to be non-transportable and could only be used on a flat surface – making it the biggest flop in Nintendo’s history.
In 2008, the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Zurich examined the possibilities of omnidirectional treadmills that adapt to the direction in which the test person walks. This enables the user to walk through a virtual city with an HMD and experience a far-reaching place illusion.
In 2014, VR was on the advance. Facebook bought Oculus for $2.3 billion. Oculus DK2 glasses were delivered and Sony introduced its first prototype HMD for PlayStation 4.
In 2016, hardware manufacturer HTC introduced its own VR headset which outperformed the DK2 from Oculus and put it under pressure. Using HTC Lighthouse technology, which is based on camera tracking, it is possible to determine the user’s position to within a few millimeters.
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