Monday, April 9, 2007

Where Do We Stand on Virtual Reality

It has been decades since the virtual reality was proposed in science fiction literature and the enabling technology has been there for a decade. Internet community at large is archiving the term virtual reality in the same basket with sentient artifical intelligence and nanotech. Big promises given first in science fiction and soon afterwards by technology oracles, the brightest minds aboard. Now technology professionals try to avoid the term as it is left with a stigma of fools dream.

Unlike many science fiction visions virtual reality has been proven to be a sound concept. Take any number of three dimensional online multiplayer games in the market and you have virtual reality in different scales and settings. In addition to games there are also promising virtual environments like Second Life and Virtual Hills & Laguna Beach.

Where are global shared virtual environments, integration to our existing infrastructure and the perfect immersion outlined in the literature? It all seems to boil down to business viability. Whether the original inventors of given technology are nonprofit or not the actual widespread use depends on business factors. Market is becoming ripe for virtual reality as more and more users have 3D-capable workstations and experience in operating in 3D-environments. A missing key for the business viability are still royalty free and practical standards. When good roalty free standards exist we are one step closer to the critical mass. When these standards are supported by reference implementations equal in quality to the modern games it is time to start investing to the VR-industry. Large market demand for immersive VR-equipment will in turn encourage the large device vendors to invent more innovative human interface solutions.

Further reading:
Virtual reality on Wikipedia

Standardization efforts:
Web3D Consortium (X3D and VRML)
Khronos (Collada)

Virtual reality examples:
Game List
Second Life
Virtual Hills and Laguna Beach

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