Expo/Theater/Virtual Environments

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Virtual Reality: Frontiers


"As far as I know, no one seriously proposes computer displays of smell or taste."
Ivan Sutherland in 1965 paper, "The Ultimate Display"

Tom DeFanti, EVL/University of Illinois, on-camera
Movie/Sound Byte
QuickTime Movie (1.6 MB); Sound File (866K); Text

Research and evolution of virtual reality

Taste, smell, sound, touch . . . virtual reality wants to envelope all the senses. And doubtless it will. But even as VR practioners strive for a full sensory experience, work remains in improving interactions with the senses VR already is targeting. VR is far from a done deal.

Conquering lag

Perhaps the most disconcerting problem in virtual reality is lag. While cruising virtual worlds, some people are gripped by a high-tech form of seasickness. Nausea and dizziness may result when the projected images fail to keep pace with the viewers's changing perspective. Another cause of lag may reside in the tracking system itself - the delay between the viewers motion and the ability of computer to respond to that motion [Bill - respond in what way? - compute a fresh perspective, render it and display? - please fill in as appropriate]. The problem of lag tends to worsen in computationally intensive simulations. Faster tracking mechanisms or the ability of the computer to "predict" the direction of head motion may help mitigate lag. VR technologists are busy pursuing both approaches.

Balancing act

In fact, balancing the demands for computing resources will continue to call for some creative compromises among VR practitioners.

Point to point, CAVE to CAVE

National Center for Supercomputing Applications
With the rapid development of both CAVE technology and the United States' information infrastructure, CAVE-to-CAVE conferencing will soon become a reality. Through powerful graphic workstations linked by a high-speed communications network to a common dat abase on a supercomputer, researchers from across the country and, eventually, around the world, will share simultaneous, interactive explorations of data that must now occur in a single CAVE. Researchers even will be able to incorporate an electronic rep resentation of themselves in their coworker's CAVE. And they won't be limited to CAVEs. Why not CAVE to ImmersaDesk, ImmersaDesk to ImmersaDesk, BOOM-to-BOOM, CAVE-to-BOOM, or BOOM to Head-mount conferencing? Users will just plug into whatever devices mee t their needs.

Sounds futuristic? In fact the future is now! Conferencing in virtual environments will be demonstrated at Supercomputing '95, using the high-speed I-WAY network.

Maxine Brown, EVL/University of Illinois, on-camera
Movie/Sound Byte
QuickTime Movie (1.5 MB); Sound File (951K); Text

Telepresence

Similar to CAVE-to-CAVE conferencing is teleconferencing. With the help of video cameras, microphones, and VR technology, you may some day be transported to distant conference rooms without leaving your office. By slipping on a head-mounted display or other VR device, your 3D image will appear in the display alongside those of the other participants. You can share documents, even schmooze.

Teleconferencing is an example of telepresence. In their book Silicon Mirage, Steve Aukstakalnis and David Blatner wrote : "Virtual reality refers to experiencing a computer-generated, 3D world, while telepresence refers to experiencing a real but remote environment."

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Researchers are experimenting with telerobotics, another form of telepresence, in which viewers can experience remote or dangerous environments. Telerobots serve as your eyes, ears, and hands.

Unlike today's robots, which are programmed to perform repetitous functions in manufacturing, telerobotics will be controlled either with a joystick, voice commands, o r a tracker you wear so they can execute fine movements and respond to unpredictable circumstances. Their senses may even be enhanced to augment human ones. For instance, they could be designed to detect light or sound frequencies outside human ranges.

Enhancing immersivity

Some exciting opportunities in virtual reality lie in improving interface devices. Researchers at Stanford University have hooked a talking dataglove to a voice-generating unit that computes sign language into spoken words. Other researchers are developing a glove so intricate as to some day replicate the fine hand movements and tactile senses required for surgery. Musicians have teamed up with computer scientists to expand the range of information that sound conveys in a VR environment and to control its reverberations.

I want my HDTV

A technology destined to play a major role in disseminating virtual reality is high definition television (HDTV). Though most people think of HDTV as a better television set, it is actually much more. Yes, it will offer a better picture; in fact, experts estimate it will offer five times the detail, twice the resolution, brighter images, and sound comparable to compact disks. This higher image quality will help bring VR to the mass market, not least because HDTV also will be transmitted digitally rather than in analog, which means TVs can function as computers. Interactive, "real time" broadcasts and cablecasts could someday become commonplace.

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NCSA & EVL. Last modified 10/24/95