The photograph shows an investigator, with a head-mounted display and a force-feedback manipulator controlling the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) probe, exploring the surface of a sample of material. The image projected on the wall indicates the view that the investigator sees and changes as his head position and orientation change. The region of the surface shown is 25 Angstroms on a side.
Virtual reality (VR) is the human experience of perceiving and interacting through sensors and effectors with a synthetic (simulated) environment containing simulated objects as if it were real. It is supported by advances in simulation technology that allow linking human capabilities and computational resources, sensor systems and robotic devices for real-time tasks. VR technology can be applied to many tasks that would be more difficult to do by other methods.
The view of the simulation that a person sees is an encompassing "immersion" perspective that appears to be from a position inside the simulation itself. By changing the view with head motion and orientation, VR "engages" a human's visual perception, vestibular system, sense of balance, cognition and motor reactions to such an extent that the immersion scenario is experienced as real.
In this closeup of the sample on the preceding image, atomic-level structures of carbon rings at the surface are seen. A button permits energy to be supplied on demand through the STM tip to modify the surface by breaking bonds, displacing various structures and enabling physical and chemical reactions.
With VR technology, a human and a computer operate together as a combined system, one that is far more capable than either taken individually when performing a large variety of tasks. For example, the environment is particularly well-suited to support reaction to unanticipated scenarios, ones that can exploit the corrective judgment of a person or of skilled teams of experts.
This enabling technology can be used to improve productivity in many important areas. There are numerous applications in the domains of health care, education and lifelong learning, manufacturing and other areas where this technology shows great promise. Early results have shown increased productivity and a dramatic reduction of resource requirements in many instances. Examples of current use include:
In order to keep pace with real-time interaction, VR technology must be supported by high performance computers, associated software and high bandwidth network capabilities. VR also requires developing new technologies in displays that update in real-time with head motion; advances in sensory feedback such as force, touch, texture, temperature, and smell; and, intelligent models of environments.
With future increases in technological capability VR holds the promise to provide significant improvements in many new application areas.