Applications Of Virtual Reality
The potential for virtual reality as an entertainment medium is apparent. Instead of manipulating computerized images of two boxers or a car race, the virtual playground allows the user to experience the event. Disney World's Epcot Center houses a virtual reality system.
Most entertainment applications of the present day are visually based. Virtual reality will allow players of the future to experience a variety of tactile events. For example, in a simulated boxing match, virtual reality users would bob and weave, and throw, land, and receive punches in return.
Virtual reality also has practical applications in business, manufacturing, and medicine. Already, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has developed a virtual wind tunnel to test aerodynamics shape. Virtual reality holds promise for discovering the most efficient manufacturing conditions by allowing planners to evaluate the actual physical motions and strength needed to complete a job. For example, the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation is using virtual reality to explore the use of different materials and tools in building the F-18 E/F aircraft. The study of people in relation to their environments (ergonomics) may also be revolutionized by trials in cyberspace. Engineers at the Volvo car company use virtual reality to test various designs for the dashboard configuration from the perspective of the user.
In medicine, virtual reality systems are being developed to help surgeons plan and practice delicate surgical procedures. Philip Green, a researcher at SRI International, has developed a telemanipulator, a special remote-controlled robot, to be used in surgery. Such surgery was performed in 2002 by a physician in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on a patient located hundreds of miles away. Using instruments connected to a computer, the operation was performed cyberspace, while the computer sent signals to direct the telemanipulator.
Virtual reality may even have applications in psychiatry. For example, someone with acrophobia (a fear of heights) may be treated by having the patient stand atop virtual skyscrapers or soar through the air like a bird.
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