Virtual environments are one among the latest and most wonderful technological inventions. They have brought about a complete revolution in human life. Today is the era of technology and the technological inventions. Innovations are taking place at such a fast pace that today’s invention becomes obsolete the next day. Computers had been invented long ago and have transformed the human life largely. Earlier, computers used to be a simple calculating machine. But today this simple calculating machine has taken the form of virtual reality. Virtual environments provide a communication medium or an interface between human and computers. It provides a lively medium of interaction and communication among people geographically dispersed.
Definition of virtual environment
There are many terms which have been interchangeably used by various authors to refer to virtual environments. Most common among these terms are:
- Virtual reality.
- Virtual worlds.
- Artificial reality.
- Synthetic environment etc.
Sherman and Craig however describe that ‘virtual environments’ are not synonymous to ‘virtual reality’ and ‘virtual worlds’. According to them, the term ‘virtual environment’ is ambiguous and it has been used prior to the development of the term ‘virtual reality’. But now ‘virtual environment’ is described as ‘virtual world’ or the as a world which has been presented in ‘virtual reality.’ (Sherman and Craig, 2003)
Myron Krueger have used the term ‘artificial reality’. He has defined it as, “an artificial reality perceives a participant’s action in terms of the body’s relationship to a graphic world and generates responses that maintain the illusion that his or her actions are taking place within that world” (Sherman and Craig, 2003). This definition clearly explains the concept of virtual environments. They are not real world actions but an illusion is created which make it feel like real actions. Virtual environments provide an opportunity for human-computer interaction using graphics, sounds and other hardware and software systems. They make virtual actions seem realistic and life-like.
Communicating through virtual environment
Communication has always been an inseparable part of human life. From early days of human civilization, there have been continuous efforts to improve the means of communication. Virtual environments are the latest developments in this field, completely changing the form of communication. Virtual reality systems provide a means by which users can communicate their imaginations to the world. To convey one’s imaginations, there is always a need for a medium. For example, the poet or the story writers convey their ideas through the medium of books; few make the use of videos or films. All these are various means to communicate the ideas in a clear manner to others.
Features of virtual environment
One necessary feature of the virtual environments is that these involve a physical or sensory immersion along with mental immersion. Immersion basically means being deeply involved in the experience i.e. the user feels like being mentally and emotionally involved into the environment. In case of novels, books and movies; sometimes readers and audiences feel empathetic with the characters and get immersed into the experience. Physical or sensory immersion on the other hand has been referred by Craig and Sherman as “bodily entering into a medium; synthetic stimulus of the body’s senses via the use of technology; this does not imply all senses or that the entire body is immersed/engulfed.” (Sherman and Craig, 2003) The virtual reality systems do not only have an impact on participant’s mind but also on his sensory organs. The aspect of physical immersion has also been focused by Dasgupta et al. in their book ‘New Technologies in Urology’. In the book, the term “virtual reality” has been defined as “a computer-generated representation of an environment that allows sensory interaction, thus giving the impression of actually being present.” (Dasgupta, Fitzpatrick, Kirby and Gill, 2010)
Another important feature of virtual reality is that it allows sensory feedback. Virtual environments provide a medium through which the participants can experience imagined reality with one or more of the physical senses. Physical reality is the firsthand experience that the participant feels through unaided senses. Imagined reality refers to the experiences that the participant feels in his thoughts and dreams or the secondhand experiences of the participant while reading a book or watching some video. Imagined reality experience gives a feeling of being actually present in that imagined environment. So, virtual environments provide a medium which offers the participants to enjoy imagined reality with physical senses. They provide sensory feedback to the participants. This feedback is based on the physical position of the participants. (Sherman and Craig, 2003)
Yet another important element of virtual reality is the interactivity. Virtual environment provides two-way interaction where not only the creator of the content is able to communicate his ideas but also the audience is able to react. Virtual environments enable participants to influence a computer-based world. The participants can move physically in this virtual world by making movements in his physical position mainly head.
Overall, it can be said that virtual technology has evolved as a complete revolution in the field of human-computer interface.
- Dasgupta P, Fitzpatrick J, Kirby R and Gill I; New Technologies in Urology. 2010. Springer.
- Sherman W, Craig A; Understanding virtual reality: interface, application, and design, Volume 2, 2003. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, USA.