virtual reality

Virtual reality viewer googles and gloves c.2006

Companies and universities are using engineers to form the Virtual Reality and Simulation Initiative. This technology applies computer simulation and visualization to 3-D modeling projects, such as virtual offices.
— Fun and Exciting Facts About Engineering

Virtual reality (VR) – a form of technology which creates computer generated worlds or immersive environments which people can explore and in many cases, interact with.

  • healthcare – surgery simulation, dentistry, phobia treatment, robotic surgery and skills training.
  • military – particularly useful for training soldiers for combat situations or other dangerous settings where they have to learn how to react in an appropriate manner.
  • education – enables large groups of students to interact with each other as well as within a three dimensional environment. Present complex data that is accessible and easy to learn. Interact with the objects to discover more about them.
  • augmented reality – a similar form of technology in which the lines are blurred between the real world and computer generated imagery, e.g. video. Sound, video or images are overlaid onto a real world environment in order to enhance the user experience.


  • Second Life – a 3D world where everyone you see is a real person and every place you visit is built by people just like you. Millions of people have already joined Second Life. Chat using voice or text with folks from around the world who share your passions and interests.

Brain-computer interface – Virtual reality works because our brains can be “see” computer-generated objects and scenes as though they were real. Using sophisticated electronics and computer science, developers create “realities” that can be used for experimentation and training as well as for entertainment.

Virtual reality gear

  • 3D glasses

Some applications of virtual reality in real life

  • Virtual reality hands controlled by stroke survivors’ thoughts could help them recover use of their limbs, according to new research. Biomedical engineers from the University of Minnesota asked six stroke patients suffering impaired arm and hand movement to control virtual hands using a brain-computer interface and viewed using 3D glasses. By thinking about controlling the virtual hands, the patients were able to improve their real movement accuracy in three two-hour sessions.
  • meetings – provides more interesting environment with much lower bandwidth than video feed. Provides non-verbal information about gestures, room setting, other attendees avatars.

Virtual learning
Virtual reality to help kids with autism (video 3:43) – Using special 3-D glasses and sensors that follow his movements, Joshua can explore different computer programmed environments. The 3-D image of the solar system, for instance, helps Joshua better understand how the planets relate to one another. Another computer game is able to simulate density, an extremely difficult concept that comes alive with hands-on games.

  • Ask – What are some of the learning challenges for kids with autism? How can they be helped? Kids with autism have trouble learning in a regular classroom situation. They are often helped by using computers for learning.
  • Imagine How can virtual reality be used to improve their learning experience? Using virtual reality introduces new and engaging ways to present information that would be hard to understand otherwise. Being able to “touch” and “move” virtual objects helps.
  • Plan, Create What topics are best presented using virtual reality? How are these adapted for virtual reality? The engineering research team started with a lesson about the planets, which has been successful. Other games to teach density and other physics topics are being developed.
  • Improve Getting more kids involved is the next step. This setup is available to other schools to expand the number of kids in the study.

That’s engineering

  • interface – A boundary across which two independent systems meet and act on or communicate with each other. In computer technology, there are several types of interfaces.
  • user interface – the keyboard, mouse, menus of a computer system. The user interface allows the user to communicate with the operating system.
  • software interface – the languages and codes that the applications use to communicate with each other and with the hardware.
  • hardware interface – the wires, plugs and sockets that hardware devices use to communicate with each other.
  • Graphical User Interface (GUI) – visual components and standard formats for representing text and graphics.

Engineering ideas

  • movement, control, motion, visualization,

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • design a virtual reality scenario to teach someone about the planets. What would they learn? Why is virtual reality better than other presentations?

Learn more…

  • Walk Again Project – The blueprints for next summer’s soccer exoskeleton include sensors that will provide an artificial skin for its human wearer.
  • Virtual Reality – This is the definitive guide to virtual reality. It contains a wealth of information about virtual reality which is designed for the newcomer and experienced technologist alike. It discusses all aspects of virtual reality which includes concepts of virtual reality, technologies used, applications and ethical issues.