Merging the real world with imaginary worlds through the physical presence is the essence of what virtual reality is all about. There are several categories of virtual reality technology that attempt to accomplish this to varying degrees. These fall under three main types: sensory-immersive, non-immersive and neural direct. These three types are applied — or potentially apply — to a wide range of effective applications in a variety of industries. As of 2011, virtual reality had yet to live up to its ideal, but persistent progress in new technology and applications, however, appeared to have edged the technology closer to its quintessence.
Primarily visual, virtual reality technology functions in a computer-simulated environment. Real or imaginary, a human being can interact with these visual worlds through sight, sound and other types of sensory feedback, such as touch. Using graphics, sound and video, computers bring these worlds to life, allowing humans to interact with them through the physical presence. Creating lifelike experiences is one objective, such as in military simulations, and many gaming applications attempt to merge reality with imaginary worlds.
Sensory-immersive virtual reality technology is the most recognized manifestation, in which users put on different types of equipment to receive sensory feedback while interacting through a computer screen. Non-immersive, on the other hand, requires no equipment, but instead, the user enters a simulator where he or she receives supplemental feedback through the human senses. Neural-direct was still mainly a model as of 2011, but it still was an important concept to virtual reality. Neglecting equipment and the physical sense altogether, this technology projects sensory input directly into the brain while simultaneously projecting the user’s conscious directly into the simulated world.
Applications of the three types of virtual reality technology have been used in a variety of fields. Education, industry, military, medicine and architectural design are just a few. Major examples of the importance of virtual reality include the fields of medicine and aviation. Surgeons make extensive use of virtual reality technology to simulate surgery, and scientists working on new drugs use virtual reality to create molecules to learn how they interact with one another. Building new prototypes to test aircraft and spacecraft once proved an expensive process, but with virtual reality, engineers can build virtual models and test those models in a simulated environment.
Advancements in virtual reality technology evidences are considered exciting for their potential. Constructing a prototype of an aircraft or spacecraft is one thing, but using virtual reality to model the universe and make trips to other planets or even beyond is another. Limitations exist in the form of raw processing power, graphics and even understanding how the brain works, but technology and science have worked together to close the gaps in knowledge. Many people hope that humans might — someday — glimpse the quintessence of virtual reality.