Its History, Implementation, Growth, and Trade Offs
Audrey “Danielle” Talley
1st MAY 2016
Business Writing (ENGL- 463) Final Project
Used By Permission (via Danielle Talley)
The term “virtual reality” (VR) was one that was not coined until 1987, and it can be generally defined as “a believable, immersive, interactive 3D computer generated world that a user can explore to feel that they are there, both mentally and physically.” Within the past few years VR has made its way into mainstream society, having a massive growth in its technology between 2012 and 2015. Though many primarily associate VR with video gaming and entertainment, it is also used in medicine, education, architecture and more. With its rise in prominence though, there have also been debates between the pros and the cons of VR due to some users experiencing negative side effects. After learning some history and background of VR and assessing the various pros and cons, one would have to decide for themselves their stand on VR and if it is something they might be interested in trying.
Though it was not called “virtual reality” until 1987, the concepts and technology behind VR have been around since the mid 1800s. In 1838, Charles Wheatstone’s research demonstrated that the brain processes two different two-dimensional images from each eye into a single object of three dimensions. This research is what inspired the creation of the first real VR device, the Stereoscope, in 1838 as well as it is what serves as the basis for all visual VR technology that is used today. The Stereoscope used two different 2D images side by side to create the illusion of the viewer seeing a single 3D object, giving the user a sense of depth and immersion within the image. The design principles behind the Stereoscope are still used today in lower budget head-mounted VR devices. Many devices like the Stereoscope were created throughout the early 1900’s, and in 1950 a cinematographer, Morton Heilig, created an arcade style theatre cabinet called the Sensorama that stimulated all of the senses, not just sight and sound like earlier devices had done. The Sensorama featured stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans, smell generators and a vibrating seat. It was intended to fully immerse the user into the film being shown, and it is this idea of complete immersion—engaging both the body and mind by stimulating all of the senses— that drives many VR devices today. In the 1960s the first VR head-mounted displays were created, they were connected to cameras and included motion tracking so that the displays were synched with the head movement of the user. In 1965 Ivan Sutherland wrote a paper describing his “Ultimate Display” concept that could simulate reality to the point where one could not tell the difference from actual reality; this paper became a core blueprint for the concepts encompassing VR today. In 1968 the first head-mounted VR device that was connected to a computer, rather than a camera, was developed. It was called the Sword of Damocles, and it employed very primitive computer-generated graphics of wireframe rooms and objects. It wasn’t until 1993 when Sega announced its VR headset for the Sega Genesis console that a VR device had been broadcast to consumers. However, due to technical development issues the device never made it out of the prototype stage and was never released. In 1995 the Nintendo Virtual Boy was released as a 3D gaming console, but due to poor graphics,
lack of software support and it being uncomfortable to wear this device was a commercial failure and was discontinued the following year. After this device, the development of VR devices and technology seemed to drop off until the 21st century.
It was not until 2012 that VR reemerged into the public eye, when the VR company Oculus was founded and the concept of the Oculus Rift was born. Between 2012 and 2015 there was a massive growth in VR technology—in 2014 Project Morpheus for the Playstation, Google Cardboard, and the Gear VR for Samsung phones were announced, followed by the Microsoft HoloLens and HTC Valve & Vive being announced in 2015, along with the long-awaited disclosure of the Oculus Rift release date. It is devices like these that truly encompass the completely immersive and interactive concepts of VR, occupying both the body and mind while responding to the user as the user responds to the virtual environment. Though there are many various types of VR technology and devices, it is the fully immersive type of VR that is most prominent today. In general, these devices use headsets that employ two screens—one for each eye—and stereo sound. For tactile feedback, data gloves can be worn to allow touch and handling of virtual objects in the virtual environment. These devices are often considered for use in entertainment purposes, but there are a surprising amount of practical and important uses for VR outside of the entertainment industry.
Even though VR is just starting to gain mass adoption with consumers, it has been a part of the medical field for many years. Medicine has always been an early adopter of new technology and VR is no exception. From surgical training to rehabilitating stroke victims, VR has proven to be a huge benefit to the medical field. Starting in the late 1990s the medical industry began using different types of VR. In the emergence of VR, medical simulations were built with basic computer graphics on a screen and executed using a mouse and keyboard. This gave doctors a useful but rudimentary tool to practice procedures without even touching a patient, as well as it gave rehabilitation patients an effective and stimulating way to work out and help improve their mobility.
Although the rudimentary type of VR in the 90s was useful, it was not powerful enough to accurately simulate every aspect of a surgery to a degree that it could be considered a legitimate way to train a surgeon. With the recent development of new VR technologies though, it seems that VR may become one of the most effective and efficient ways to properly train new residents. VR can be used to simulate surgeries to allow surgeons to practice procedures and train residents without the need to hold a real scalpel. Not only are routine surgeries virtualized for practice, but surgeries that occur less often or variations that occur in that same surgery can also be programmed into the simulation. Having residents practice these uncommon variations in routine surgeries can help them prepare for the times where those issues could show up in actual surgeries so that they will know how to handle them. The repetition of these simulations could also help improve the skills of the trainees as well. In his article, Grantcharov talks about a few studies that compare training surgical residents using conventional techniques and training them using new VR techniques. He states, “In a randomized, controlled trial of 16 surgical trainees, those who had received VR training for laparoscopic procedure were faster, made fewer errors.” So through training using VR the residents were able to complete the surgical procedure with fewer mistakes and at a faster time than those who received conventional training.
Virtual reality is currently being used to treat phobias in people whose fears are becoming a detriment to their daily lives. There are two new free applications that have been released by Samsung on the Gear VR that claim to help treat phobias. One is called Samsung BeFearless, which is promoted to help people who have a mild fear of heights reduce their anxiety. The application places the user in different situations that each has a differing level of exposure to heights. One situation is where the user is in an elevator that is made out of glass so that you can see through to the street outside. The user walks into the elevator and it starts slowly ascending. It then asks the user to gage their anxiety level. If the user says that their anxiety level was low then they are given another virtual situation with a higher level of exposure, which includes looking over a cliff or looking out of a helicopter a few hundred feet in the air. The other application is called Public Speaking Simulator, which places the user in different public speaking situations. One scenario puts the user in front of a huge audience in an auditorium where they can give a speech. Another puts the user in a virtual board meeting in front of a few listeners. The virtual crowd also reacts to the users voice; for example, if the user says “um” too many times or speaks too quickly the audience will let the user know by their reaction. There is also a center for the treatment of phobias using VR called the Virtual Reality Medical Center, which uses VR exposure therapy and physiological monitoring to treat panic and anxiety disorders. They treat specific phobias like fear of heights, public speaking, thunderstorms, and agoraphobia. They claim that their treatment consists of putting the client in a controlled environment using a VR headset like the Oculus Rift where they can generate different environments related to the patient’s specific needs while also controlling the level of exposure. Using VR in conjunction with therapist consultations, patient can develop personalized practices that can help them take control of their anxieties if they are exposed to the stimuli in their real life.
Virtual reality can also be used in the rehabilitation of stroke victims. One of the major side effects of a stroke is the loss of motor functions in the arms and legs of the victim. VR may become a great way to help rehabilitate the victims of a stroke so that they can regain partial mobility in their extremities. VR gives the patient a repetitive task that is stimulating enough that they don’t get bored and eventually lose interest in completing their rehabilitation. These repetitive tasks help improve the strength of the patient over time. VR can also be used to easily simulate daily tasks that the patient is having difficulties accomplishing because of the limited use they have of their body or limbs. The more the patient practices the task the easier it becomes for them to perform it when they are outside of the controlled environment. These simulations can be as simple as having the patient walking through a virtual park, to an accurate simulation of driving a vehicle. An article in The European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine talks about the possible uses of VR in rehabilitation. They explain how risky activities that occur in a person’s daily life, such as crossing the street, can be simulated in a medical center so that the patient is never put in harm’s way. The authors also collected the data from 37 controlled trials to show the effectiveness of using VR as a tool to improve the mobility in patients undergoing rehabilitation. They did varying test each with VR applications and without them. For example, they would put the patient in a 3D virtual environment of a grocery store. The researchers had them practice grabbing different virtual items off of the shelves and placing them in baskets. They had another group not using VR doing a similar activity of grabbing objects and placing them in
baskets. They found that the patients who used VR were more motivated to do the tasks than those who did not use them. They state, “virtual reality intervention was found to be a more effective approach than conventional therapy in retaining upper limb function.”
Though there are many wonderful uses and benefits of VR, there are also widely reported negative effects resulting from the use of VR devices. One of the most dangerous and blatant issues with VR is its effects on our health. Three of the most common side effects of all visual VR devices are dizziness, nausea, and headaches—
all of which I have experienced myself after trying out the new Oculus headset. The immersive display can instantly take a user out of their environment. Combined with the motion of both the graphics and the user, this is enough to trigger physiological responses. The actual visual mechanic exacerbates these negative reactions: two different pictures are displayed and the user’s brain is responsible for splicing the images together. Even a slight discrepancy in angle or orientation of the images will impact the user negatively. Some extreme cases can result in flash backs or even permanent brain damage. However, even if the user doesn’t have any physical side effects, it can still impact their perception of the real world, which can lead to some harsh consequences. There are also some unfortunate psychological short-term side effects to complement the nausea and dizziness. The environment can seem so real that the user can become stressed or scared during the game. For example, if the user was playing Five Nights at Freddy’s (the VR version) they might actually become fearful of their life. That extreme sense of danger can trigger some nasty side effects or even a heart attack.
The life like display, though appealing, can implant aggressive thoughts into the user’s subconscious. In one study participants reported having aggressive thoughts after playing a VR game, although most gamers do after playing an aggressive game; further research is needed to test long-term effects. However, it is important to note that the previously stated study was conducted over 20 years ago. A more recent study conducted over a course of 15 years by a Stanford University professor confirms, “Virtual reality can change how a user thinks and behaves, in part because it is so realistic.” However, VR aside, most gamers can get immersed in any game they play often; immediately after playing any game, some gamers will adopt temporary characteristics of that game and long term game play can lead to a blur between reality and a virtual world. More studies are needed to contrast the long-term psychological effects of VR versus normal gaming.
Pulling back to a more abstract perspective, VR causes a few ethical dilemmas that should be fully addressed before it becomes a household standard. The ethical issues range from the distraction they will cause users from the real world, emotional detachment due to extreme violence in such a realistic setting, misinterpreting reality and VR, to virtual crime. Though some seem harmless, the graphic nature of the gaming industry can influence extreme results that seem unfathomable. For example, if someone were addicted to playing virtual Grand Theft Auto, it is completely possible that the user might blend the virtual world with the real world and start driving over hookers to get their money back. This might seem a bit far-fetched but it’s not uncommon for a gamer to be so immersed in a game that they try to implement, or at least think about implementing, functions of the game in real life. The last point about virtual crime is particularly interesting. What if the character you play in a virtual world was raped by another user’s character and you were left psychologically scared: the virtual rape was just a psychologically detrimental as an actual rape. Can you hold the other user
accountable for their actions? How about the game studio for allowing that feature in the game or the VR manufacturer for enabling the situation? These physiological and ethical concerns of VR are more realistic than they appear.
To understand about how many people can be impacted positively and negatively, a graph of data was found displaying the number of active VR users worldwide in millions. This data was recorded and projected from 2015 to 2018, using different groups to represent who is using VR and their level of technology aptitude. The different groups were early majority, early adopters/light gamers, and innovators/hardcore gamers. Innovators/hardcore gamers would represent those who use VR with top-notch accessories to fully enhance their experience. The better and the more equipment used, for example the sensory pads used for virtual gaming on a PC. Unlike innovators wanting the full experience of VR, early adopters/light gamers would be using VR in gaming. This group may use just a headset and the console game itself, not the full body virtual practice. And lastly the early majority or the general population includes those who use a mobile device or a basic head-mounted display (HMD) unit. This also could include those companies and businesses using VR for therapy or rehabilitation. In early 2016, about 46% of users are expected to be using a PC to access VR, usually associated with the innovators. The other devices surveyed are consoles at 28% and mobile devices at 26%. Early adopters and early majority, most of which are using the mobile version, generally use these devices. Although in 2018, early majority and mobile devices are expected to include 90% of virtual users worldwide. In a graph of the total number of users, displaying in 2014, the innovators consisted of about 0.2 million, and the other two groups did not register enough users to make the graph. This is probably due to lack of information on VR and the previous issues regarding VR. In 2015, the numbers ranged from 1 million to 2 million, with the innovators and hardcore gamers on the low end of the interval, early adopters at about 2 million, and about 4 million in the majority group. In 2016, the general population is expected to rapidly increase to 26 million with the early adopters rising to 13 million and innovators to 4 million. In 2017 and 2018, each group is projected to double in both years from the previous year with 2018 displaying about 114 million early majority users and 41 million early adopters and 16 million innovators. With the new, improved methods of using VR the numbers are projecting to increase with the assumption that the general population will follow the social trend and eventually purchase a device capable of VR. This rapid increase of users would not only aid the improvement of treatment and rehab, but this increase would generate a great amount of revenue. Even for the sale of head-mounted displays worldwide alone, there is a significant rise in revenue. According to another statistical graph of recorded and projected revenue from HMD sales alone from 2015 to 2018, assuming the same groups represented as stated before, the software sales of VR generate the most revenue. In 2015, the groups’ revenue spanned about 125-350 million with early majority on the high end of the interval and innovators on the low end. In 2016, number spiked and early majority and early adopters produced over a billion dollars in revenue with innovators producing 420 million. In 2017 and 2018, revenues are expected to reach over 2 billion for the early majority with the early adopters still earning about 1.2-1.3 billion each year. And in both years, innovators are still producing about 440-485 million dollars. The more money that is generated from the sales, the better and more improvements can be made to both hardware and software and eventually benefitting everyone associated with VR.
Looking at both hardware and software, disregarding the different types of users, VR’s revenue is estimated to produce about 3.8 billion in 2016. Comparing the projections of 2016, the sales of HMDs are expected alone to produce almost 3 billion of the 3.8 billion total generated. This 1.5 billion dollar increase from the 2.3 billion generated in 2015, it can already be seen that VR is reappearing and succeeding with today’s technology. After 2016, the rate of increase is expected to drop off to about a 0.5 billion increase in both 2017 to 4.6 billion and in 2018 to 5.2 billion.
Through the numerous current and projected users and the amounts of revenue that could possibly be generated, VR could be back to stay this time with its new improvements. Being able to treat and rehab with VR will open many more doors and options for those who struggle with certain fears, phobias, and the incapability to perform certain tasks. These projected users will also bring a downside to VR, including the questions regarding health risks, moralities, and ethics. There has always been some form of technology that questions these same issues but VR creates bigger issues due to the fact that the user is actually in the experience. So morals and ethics in question are not just see on a screen from a distance, certain activities in VR and especially gaming could make the user more likely feel what is happening. For example, as previously mentioned, murder in VR would impact the user in a different way than just murdering on a gaming console with a controller. In VR, the user would actually see their “own hands” murdering someone. As any technological advancement, there has to be balance, in this situation, will people balance VR and actual reality or will some users become so addicted to VR they never leave the headset and assume VR is actual reality. Although the negatives could be drastic, the upside could also save someone’s life through surgical training.
It is clear that there are many aspects and factors behind virtual reality, some of which are positive and beneficial while others are seemingly negative and potentially harmful. However, there is not enough long-term research to determine if VR itself would be more good than bad or vice versa. It is clear that VR will continue its rise in prominence in mainstream society so for now it seems that user discretion is the only measure of these pros and cons. Whether someone would benefit from VR or find entertainment from it is something that they would have to try and figure out for themselves.
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