Virtual Reality

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How 3D Imaging Works

Before delving into the discussion pertaining to our topic of virtual reality, it is important to understand the concept of how the human mind is capable of perceiving imaged in three dimensions. It is through understanding this process that technologies have been created to manipulate our senses and provide the major visual component for virtual reality systems.

Human Perception of 3 Dimensions

The human eyes are offset from each other by a slight distance of roughly two inches. This means that at any given moment, for any object that is being looked at, each eye is seeing it from a slightly different angle. The brain then takes these two images, and creates a composite that effectively presents the image in three dimensions. What this means is that there is a mental illusion resulting from this process, and it creates a sense of depth.

Technological Reproduction of the Effect

Understanding the process by which the brain recognizes and creates this effect allows us to manipulate our senses to effectively reproduce it. The requirement is for each eye to individually see an image from a slightly offset angle, and allow the brain to create the composite. The most prominent processes by which this is achieved in the current day are anaglyph and stereoscopic imaging.

Anaglyph Image


Anaglyph imaging is immediately recognizable by the characteristic layered image with slightly transparent ghosted copies of varying colours. Most commonly, the outlines of objects in the image will be embossed with a red and blue copy. However, anaglyph images can be presented in numerous colours, so long as they are opposite on the colour spectrum.

This process then requires a pair of glasses (or any orientation that can provide the lenses over your eyes) to achieve the effect. The glasses will have two lenses, that are of the same variant in colour as the outlines in the image. The coloured lens over each eye will effectively negate the contrasting colour in the image. As a result of this, each eye will for the most part see a different image.

This process is the least expensive method in terms of image presentation and viewer requirement. However it also has the drawbacks of distorting the colour of the final picture.


Stereoscopy seeks to present independent images to each eye through more advanced techniques.

Theatre Use

The most prolific use of this effect is in the movie industry. The effect in movie theatres is achieved through both specialized projection techniques, and specialized glasses. There are in fact two images that are projected in a theatre, at a very high frequency alternating one after another. These are the two images of the same scene from a slightly different angle. If this image is viewed directly, it will seem blurry in certain areas where there is a variance in angle.

The glasses used to complete the effect are fairly simple in this case. While relatively inexpensive, they have polarized lenses designed to each block out one of the two sets of images. Effectively, this completes the illusion.

Current 3D glasses
Home Use

On a consumer level, it is less financially feasible to invest in the projection techniques employed by theatres. Instead, through conjunction of alternate presentation and viewing technology, the same effect can be achieved. On a similar note, various monitors and televisions have the ability to present images at a high enough frequency. However, they are not designed to function with simple polarized glasses.

Instead, the effect relies on the use of active shutter glasses. These glasses instead have technology that allows the lenses to alternate between transparent and opaque at a refresh rate equivalent to the screen. As such, the lenses take turns alternating, synced with the display device, and each eye once again is exposed to one particular image.

The major advantage of stereoscopy is image quality that is not distorted in terms of colour. The downside however is that these technologies can be potentially expensive for either the image presenter or the viewer.

What is VR?

Augmented Reality in Movie <Iron Man 3>


Virtual Reality (VR) stands for an artificial environment, which is experienced through sensory stimuli provided by a computer. User’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment (Virtual Reality, 2003). Another definition provided by Wikipedia defines Virtual Reality as a computer-simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in place in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds (Virtual Reality, 2013). Key elements can be generated from these definitions. There are two essential part of Virtual Reality:

  1. Artificial three-dimensional images.
  2. Abity to track one’s motion.

Virtual Reality versus Augmented Reality

Although virtual reality technologies have existed for more than half a century, it is often still confused with another technology known as ‘Augmented Reality’. Augmented reality is considered as a variation of virtual reality, but it is not the same. The difference is that augmented reality users see virtual objects generated by systems, which are then superimposed or composited upon the real environment (Azuma, 1997). Augmented reality technologies always have a third element that combines the real and virtual worlds. This can be done through images and graphics. Furthermore, augmented reality might also apply to all senses (Azuma, 1997). The technologies of both computer-generated image and display devices are improving quickly. Compared to virtual reality, augmented reality doesn’t require higher standard of scene generators or display devices (Azuma, 1997). However, the requirements for tracking and sensing are stricter than virtual reality systems. The problem that limits augmented reality applications is most likely the issue of registration. Accurate registration requires virtual objects in the real environment to be properly aligned with respect to one another (Azuma, 1997). The registration requirements are difficult to satisfy and only a few companies have achieved promising results; the problem is still far from solved.


360-Degree Art

360-degree art began to appear during 1860s (Virtual Reality, 2013). Audiences can be surrounded by the art to make them feel somewhat immersed into the artificial world presented. Based on the definitions of Virtual Reality, this is not considered as Virtual Reality. However, 360-degree art was considered as the root of VR.

3D Film

In 1922, the first public three-dimensional movie was available for Los Angles audiences. It was called “The Power of Love”. The projection of this movie used dual-strip in the red/green anaglyph format (3D Film, 2013). From 360-degree art, human took one step forward towards Virtual Reality technology.

Morton Heilig's Sensorama


For years of effort, Morton Heilig invented his most famous Sensorama in 1957. Then, he successfully patented it in 1962. The Sensorama is a simulator that illustrates reality using 3D images. It also has smell, stereo sound, vibration of the seat and wind in the hair. Because of this invention, Morton Heilig is considered as the Father of Virtual Reality (Morton Heilig, n.d.).

The Sword of Damocles

Sword of Damocles

In 1968, Professor Ivan Sutherland created a head-mounted display (HMD device called “Sword of Damocles” (Virtual Worldlets, n.d.). This was not the first HMD in the history of Virtual Reality, but it was the first computer mediated VR system. The name was directly from the Greek story of Damocles. Like the legendary sword, the device was bolted into the ceiling since it was too heavy to head mount. The display tracked the position of both eyes. It allows the users to swivel it around 360 degrees. It also tracked the orientation and head position of the user (Virtual Worldlets, n.d.).

Wired Gloves

Wired glove is another category of Virtual Reality products. Sayre glove was the first one created in 1977. Later in 1982, the Dataglove was invented. Both of them were using fiber-optics. The light travels through the fiber will be measured when users bend their fingers (Antonio & Boas, n.d.).

Virtual Boy

Video game industry adopted Virtual Reality technology relatively earlier than most other industries. In 1995, Nintendo introduced its Virtual Boy gaming device. It was defined as an HMD. However, it was difficult to put this heavy device on gamers’ head. It uses red/black screen to project the images. Unfortunately, the Virtual Boy had only a few games available that time. It was discontinued a couple months later.


2006 is an important year for Nintendo. The company released a gaming console called Wii. It was the first well-known gaming console that utilized motion sensor technology to bring more realistic gaming experience to the gamers. Wii helps Nintendo establish the leading position in the home gaming devices business. The cumulative sales of Wii outperform Microsoft’s XBOX and Sony’s Play Station 3 both in terms of global sales and American sales (VG Chartz, 2013).


Due to the pressure of Wii, Microsoft introduced Kinect, which is a motion sensor device used for XBOX. Compared to Wii’s MotionPlus (a controller that has motion sensors in it), Kinect enables truly hands-free control.

Cumulative Global Sales of Gaming Hardware (update to July 2013)

Mechanics Involved


Immersion is the concept that making one completely absorbed by the environment. For instance, when someone reads a book and gets so captivated by it, the person is immersed into a artificial world. There are three types of immersive systems in Virtual Reality: non immersive system, semi-immersive system, and fully immersive system (Antonio & Boas, n.d.).

  • Non immersive system:

Non Immersive Systems on the other hand, are considered not appropriate devices for Virtual Reality since they are relatively cheap and don’t require great performance (Antonio & Boas, n.d.). Personal computer is an example of Non Immersive System.

  • Semi immersive system:

Semi Immersive Systems combine high performance software with Virtual Reality inducing technologies (such as stereoscopic vision, increased field of view, haptic feedback) to deliver a more immersive experience to the users comparing to Non Immersive Systems. Flight simulators belong to this category (Antonio & Boas, n.d.).

  • Fully immersive system:

Fully Immersive Systems utilize high quality graphics and performance with complete or major absence of unrelated stimuli. The purpose of this type of immersive system is to bring the closest experience to reality (Antonio & Boas, n.d.).


Perception describes the awareness of the surroundings through physical senses. This means sensorial stimuli is required. There are two approaches that can be used to enhance perception: the data-oriented approach, and the constructivist approach (Antonio & Boas, n.d.).

  • Data-oriented approach:

In this approach, the quality of data determines how immersive it will be (Antonio & Boas, n.d.). For instance, video gaming industry is always working on improvement in this field. Different functions may come and go among different generations of same game due to users’ requirements and feedbacks. However, the quality of the graphics is always improving throughout the time.

  • Constructivist approach:

Constructivist approach, the other hand, uses human capability of building a reality (Antonio & Boas, n.d.). When people are reading a book, they will use imagination to build the story in their minds. Different stories may be slightly different from each other even readers are reading the same book. This is because of the perception and experience is never identical among people.


Telepresence is the characteristic of being able to feel present somewhere different of your real location. Hence, this concept is highly connected with the concept of immersion (Antonio & Boas, n.d.).

Current Applications


Ford using Virtual Reality to Tweak Car Design

Ford utilizes virtual reality technology at all levels of development in order to speed up manufacturing and production times as well as reduce costs (Burns, 2010). One of the methods in which Ford utilizes VR is through the use of programmable virtual vehicles. Ford builds virtual cars at a high level up to 0.005mm (InDesign Live, 2012) in order to virtually view, design, and analyze the interior and exterior of vehicles (Thompson, 2008). This allows Ford to evaluate and enhance the driver experience prior to building a single prototype and therefore prior to investing in any heavy capital.

The virtual environments are enabled by three main components: a programmable vehicle, motion tracking gloves, and a head mounted display. The programmable vehicle is a physical car model consisting of two front car seats, steering wheel, car dashboard, pedals and doors. This vehicle can be simulated to different sizes and lengths in accordance to the car that is being assessed (Thompson, 2008). The motion tracking gloves are coupled with motion-tracking cameras located around the room in order to precisely track every hand movement (Thompson, 2008). The virtual reality headset with attached motion tracking sensors allows the Ford designers and engineers to immerse themselves into the virtual vehicle and environment. The virtual environment consists of real-time image manipulation, with realistic shading, shadow generation, and textural mapping (International Society for Presence Research, 2012). As the designers move their heads and hands to “touch” the real environment in the programmable vehicle, they will see this action replicated in the simulated world. This provides them with a heightened and realistic experience through the virtual reality headset (Thompson, 2008). This allows Ford to assess design elements such as blind spots, steering wheel location, window sizes, knob distance and etc from all different consumer perspectives (Thompson, 2008).

Ford's Cave Automated Virtual Environments (CAVE)

Another method in which Ford utilizes VR technology is through its Cave Automated Virtual Environments (CAVE). This 3D lab works similarly to the programmable vehicle but also consists of four rear projectors that generate 3D images on three walls and above the tester. Instead of a virtual headset, the users wear 3D glasses that are also equipped with motion-tracking sensors. This environment allows Ford to evaluate style and craftsmanship of a vehicle during its design and before production phase.

alt Ford: Number of Manufacturing Issues


By using virtual reality to conduct preliminary consumer preference prior to building an actual prototype, Ford has cut the designing process in half, from six years to three years, (Smart Planet, 2012). Aside from shortening the design process, virtual reality has also enabled Ford to significantly reduce the amount of manufacturing issues and therefore speed up production times and ultimately trimming the high costs of manufacturing a vehicle. The chart below illustrates the dramatic drop of over 85% in manufacturing issues from 2006 to 2010, since virtual reality processes have been implemented (Carrabine, 2010).


alt The Dismounted Soldier Training System

The Dismounted Soldier Training System is a virtual reality training simulation commissioned by the US government that cost a total of $57 million (Senior, 2011). The virtual reality simulation allows the military to model any environment of rugged or mountainous terrain or battlefield for the soldiers to perform live training exercises on. Realistic buildings, helicopters and ground vehicles can also be programmed into the training scenario as well as environmental effects such as shadows, footprints, and realistic weather effects (Senior, 2011).

U.S. Soldiers Train Using Virtual Reality

A team of soldiers each wear a head mounted display with an inbuilt tracking system that immerses them into simulated training exercises. The headset is equipped with “cinema-quality sound” to the point where you can tell an AK-47 rifle apart from an M4 (Hsu, 2011). The video screens are also generated by top of the line video graphics in order to model the most realistic scenes possible (Hsu, 2011). The soldiers play their virtual missions on a 10 by 10 foot square pad allowing them to physical sit, crouch, or even roll over within the maintained area (WatchTheDaily, 2012). Motion sensors placed strategically over their bodies and firearms allow the simulation game to track their every physical movement and coordinate it precisely in the virtual world (Hsu, 2011). However, due to limited space available, the soldiers control their walking within the virtual game on a mini-joystick located on their guns (WatchTheDaily, 2012). During the game, each of the players are equipped with a laptop in their backpacks, allowing real-time data to be sent to the network. This allows the soldiers to simultaneously play the virtual exercises together (WatchTheDaily, 2012). After the training exercises, leaders would sit down with the soldiers to perform an “After Action Review” in order to give feedback on everyone’s performance (WatchTheDaily, 2012). This evaluation and feedback process allows soldiers to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and to make improvements in future exercises or real-world battles.


The virtual training simulations help prepare soldiers with the necessary experience and expertise prior to training or fighting on the real battlefield. This eliminates risks of serious injuries or even deaths as soldiers are able to gain hands-on experience in a simulated environment. Before the use of virtual reality, the military have historically always sent soldiers into real missions or expensively generated mock battlefields. The Dismounted Soldier Training System allows the military to experience dramatic cost and time savings in the long-run as practically any virtual environment can be easily and quickly created. This is particularly true for the Air Force as airborne training with actual aircraft can be extremely expensive in comparison to virtual flight simulators.

Entertainment and Gaming Industry

The entertainment and gaming industry has a number of solutions that seek to achieve an experience close to virtual reality. However, there are a number of caveats with regards to these.

HMD Comparisons

Head Mounted Displays (HMD’s) have been on the market for a fair while, yet adoption has not hit a critical mass. As referenced in the image, there are a number of options available. In general, these devices seek to create a theatre quality experience, and are capable of producing the independent image effect required for 3D viewing. Unfortunately the drive for immersion ends there.

Examples of HMD's on the market

Current Developments

Issues With the Market

It may seem that lack of consumer adoption for the previously mentioned products is indicative of a general disinterest in the technology. Consumers have not accepted the precursor developments, and as such it creates uncertainty for investment into devices that further the illusion of virtual reality. Additionally, there are many factors including price, support, and efficacy of any potential VR devices that need to be considered. These uncertainties create an environment of incredibly large risk, and may dissuade potential developers from entertaining the idea.

Crowdsourcing as a Solution

Crowdsourced funding platforms, (for example KickStarter and Indiegogo), provide a means for alleviating a number of risks associated with developing a new product. The ability to interact directly with your end user provides a unique metric for gauging public interest. Funding directly from these users helps reduce costs associated with intermediary channels. Additionally, online initiatives such as these help garner interest through various media outlets, social and otherwise.

Product of Focus - Oculus Rift

There is a product offering that has gone ahead and participated in such crowdsourced funding. With a early version functioning prototype, along with industry accolade, the Oculus Rift VR headset sought initial investment on Kickstarter of $250,000. By the time the campaign had ended, the funding had reached a value of almost $2.5 million.

Oculus Rift Kickstarter video

Differentiating Features

Oculus Rift vs. other HMD's
The Oculus Rift HMD seeks to address a number of the issues that have held back further development into the world of virtual reality.

From a consumer standpoint, it tackles the issue of cost. Comparative to other HMD’s, the Rift is projected to come in at less than half the cost.

From a Technical standpoint, various barriers exist that limit the ability for true immersion - namely field of view and latency in tracking. The Rift seeks to negate these concerns by offering a field of view much larger than competitors, and also heavily focusing on reducing latency to the smallest amount possible.

Developer Focus

The device has been designed and marketed with developers in mind. The Kickstarter campaign offered a development kit for individuals who funded at the $300 level. Already this has led to a number of unique user developments that serve to both display the potential of the device, and generate interest

Projection of Success

The initial funding for the project exceeded expectation almost ten fold. This fact was incredibly telling in terms of what consumer demand may be for the technically-minded early adopters. The individuals however become the one who in turn best understand and are capable of spreading news of the product.

Additionally, as seen in the KickStarter video, numerous influential and powerful developers have already expressed their interest and support in the project (Gilbert, B., 2013). For a platform to survive, it required the talent of developers capable of creating content for it.

With regards to financial security, recent news developments have revealed an additional investment of $16 million in the company (Oculus VR, 2013).

Reactions and Implications

A number of reactions to the device have been captured and posted in public spaces. Two in particular have garnered a fair bit of attention.

The reactions are resultant of a product still in the development stage. However the emotions are genuine, be they wonder and awe, or fear and discomfort. These outbursts are indicative of the level of immersion that is experienced when utilizing the device.

Reaction to a horror game
Reaction to a peaceful environment

External Industry Adoption

Pending adoption on a large scale, a number of industries can look into the potential applications of this new display format. However, some industries are already developing with this in mind, namely the pornography industry.

ThriXXX, a producer of digital adult entertainment, has already stated development of support for the Oculus Rift HMD. This support will be integrated into an entire package of devices designed with intent to create “perhaps the most realistic... experience ever” (CNET, 2013). The implication of this is even greater however, as the adult entertainment industry is known for adopting and driving new technologies further.

Future Extrapolations and Business Applications

General Trend

General Trend The future of virtual reality is dependent on the current developments, and will improve as these technologies advance. While more and more industries begin to utilize virtual reality makes, industries such as military or health care continue to be the leader of virtual reality applications. In addition, as technologies improve, fully immersive virtual reality will become more affordable and accessible to the general public. In the future, immersive technology will replace 3D technology in virtual reality. The development of virtual reality will also center around fully immersive systems as they deliver the closest experience to reality (Antonio & Boas, n.d.). Below are two cases that demonstrate how businesses could utilize virtual reality in the future.

Case 1: Training

Virtual reality is already being used for training purposes in industries such as sports, aviation and healthcare (Virtual Reality, 2009). In the future, such application will become more common and will not be limited to special professionals, for instance, professional athletes, pilots and doctors. Even average consumers will be able to improve and train themselves using fully immersive virtual reality. For example, a high school student should be able to review and enhance his learning at home when he immerses himself in a historical moment or in the middle of the solar system. Likewise, an amateur tennis player can train herself in the immersive environment, review her performance after the training sessions and improve her skills.

Based on the future of virtual reality described in the previous paragraph, there will be many opportunities for new businesses to grow. For example, since the needs for training with virtual reality come from the general public, they will be diverse and will require many intellectual resources. New businesses dedicated to consumer-use virtual reality could become very popular. Such companies will need programmers, graphic designers, industry professionals and assorted additional resources.. It is possible those special distributors are needed as well. On the other hand, it is also important for existing businesses to consider virtual reality as a solution for current tasks. One of the benefits of doing this is reduced costs. By utilizing virtual reality in training, organizations can spend less on building infrastructures for training. They can also train with more diverse situations while reduce risks that the trainees may have to face if it were done physically. A good example of this would be training firefighters.

While virtual reality provides organizations with opportunities to train their employees cheaper, safer, and more efficiently, companies must ensure that they have the necessary knowledge to make it function properly. This may require more training than traditional ways of operating. Such training may offset the reduced costs mentioned earlier. Also, the costs to develop different virtual reality environments is to be determined. For example, the costs will vary depending on the level of customization the business is looking for.

Case 2: Entertainment

There are theme parks that currently have 3D rides where the riders are asked to put on 3D glasses while a 3D video is being projected onto a screen. Usually, these videos display an adventurous situation and aim to create excitement among the audience through interactive plot and animation. These rides uses semi-immersive systems but it can be improved with fully immersive systems in the future. This is what Universal Studio thinks too. It has created a semi-immersive environment that is really close to a fully immersive environment in its Transformer 3D Ride and King Kong 360 Ride (Universal Studio, 2013). These rides have gained lots popularity and publicity due to the realistic experiences they provide. Videos on these rides were being uploaded online and generated many positive responses, from both people who have and have not gone on the rides (SoCal Theme Parks 360, 2012, TheCoasterViews, 2010). While these rides are impressive, there is still room for advancement. In the future, these rides will become more realistic as they incorporate fully immersive system such as head mounted display and all five senses.

It is clear how fully immersive rides with virtual reality can benefit riders: these rides will be more realistic, fun, exciting, and interactive. On the other hand, they can also provide benefits to theme parks. Similar to training industry, by utilizing fully immersive virtual reality, businesses may save cost as theme parks do not have to build settings and maintain them. Even if they decided to build a real track, it can be smaller yet more interesting when it is combined with fully immersive virtual reality. This means more efficient use of the space therefore increasing potential customer capacity.

As theme parks develop different rides that are centred around various themes enabled by virtual reality, time to market can also be reduced as the process does not include building physical sites and only requires installing new virtual reality environments to the system. In addition, putting up a new ride with a new theme will involve less risk because it will be less costly and less complicated to replace unpopular and old themes. Fully immersive rides with virtual reality can still benefit rides even when they need real track (as oppose to those that stay on the same spot) if, in the future, the design and formation of the track can be controlled and changed on computers. Furthermore, virtual reality can help theme parks to achieve more operational efficiency as they can design and test the new theme at the same time.

Transformers the Ride 3D
King Kong 360 3D: Return To Skull Island

Overall Business Implications

The table below summarizes the businesses implication discussed in the two cases above. These implications can be applied to other industries on high level.

Overall Implications


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