From the virtual to the real and the worlds in between

From the virtual to the real and the worlds in between

Article by Johann Mifsud published in the Sunday Times of Malta on 19.06.2022

Virtual reality (VR) technologies utilise computer-generated objects and scenes to create a virtual environment artificially, allowing the user to perceive them naturally, and also interact with such surroundings, thus, experiencing the scene as ‘Real’. This is made possible by digital graphics and display technologies, such as 3D glasses. The user is immersed in a reality that ranges from artificial in its totality, all the way to an artificial representation of real-world objects or a mix of both. In the latter case, we refer to such an environment as Augmented Reality (VR). This implies the placement of a digital-objects, such as a 3D images, in the physical world as if it were physically present.

To illustrate these concepts, let us take an example right out of the entertainment industry. In the famous Jurassic era franchise, real flesh and blood actors interact with their digital Jurassic counterparts to immerse the viewer in what can be described as a composite reality scene, part real and part artificial. Real buildings and people and digital dinosaurs. While admittedly, the dinosaurs in the movie are in essence, digital puppets, albeit very sophisticated ones, it is easy to see how seamless the scene is experienced by the viewers as well as its effect and impact on their senses.

Its these precise capabilities that hold so much potential for these technologies, and their possible application to countless fields.

Let’s now substitute the actors for trainee surgeons and the dinosaurs for a digital analogue of a human organ such as a heart. In this high-end training scenario, the surgeons can work on a virtual heart and perfect their technique without putting patients at risk. Moreover, the procedure could also be affected remotely (via robotic systems) on a real patient, which could be on a different continent.

Another exciting application is in architecture design; by using artificial reality, it is possible for architects to better envision a space and present the project to their clients. Any potential issues with the functionality or aesthetic of the building can be identified very early in the design. This drastically the risk of potentially costly modifications at the construction stage or other issues that would be extremely difficult to correct later.

From these few examples we have seen it the ability of these technologies to create value. Applications from entertainment to high end training for surgeons as well as architecture are only a few of the already existing applications that give advantages such as providing a risk-free training environment, or improving the functionality of building designs and reduce risk of project cost overruns, are only the tip of the iceberg of the potential of these technologies.

Testament to this, the tech giants are already investing millions to develop applications with these technologies and tap into this emerging market. Add to this are key enablers such as the ever more affordable computing power, displays and sensors and also the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

With possible applications in medicine, architecture, military, science, and so many more. All these areas provide ample fertile ground for growth for myriad applications. These factors combined, clearly show a bright future for these technologies, possibly limited only by our imagination in terms of applications we can dream up!

This article was prepared by collating various publicly available online sources.