virtual reality

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virtual reality

(VR) or

virtual environment

(VE), computer-generated environment with and within which people can interact. The advantage of VR is that it can immerse people in an environment that would normally be unavailable due to cost, safety, or perception restrictions. A successful VR environment offers users immersion, navigation, and manipulation. VR encompasses a range of interactive computer environments, from text-oriented on-line forums and multiplayer games to complex simulations that combine audio; video, animation, or three-dimensional graphics; and scent. Some of the more realistic effects are achieved using a helmetlike apparatus with tiny computer screens, one in front of each eye and each giving a slightly different view so as to mimic stereoscopic vision. Sensors attached to the participant (e.g., gloves, bodysuit, footwear) pass on his or her movements to the computer, which changes the graphics accordingly to give the participant the feeling of movement through the scene. Computer-generated physical feedback adds a "feel" to the visual illusion, and computer-controlled sounds and odors reinforce the virtual environment. Other VR systems, such as flight simulatorsflight simulator,
device providing a controlled environment in which a flight trainee can experience conditions approximating those of actual flight. A simulator generally consists of an enclosure housing a working replica of the interior of the cockpit of an aircraft.
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, use larger displays and enclosed environments to create an illusion. Less-complicated systems for personal computerspersonal computer
(PC), small but powerful computer primarily used in an office or home without the need to be connected to a larger computer. PCs evolved after the development of the microprocessor made possible the hobby-computer movement of the late 1970s, when some computers
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 manipulate an image of three-dimensional space on a computer screen. In a virtual networknetwork,
in computing, two or more computers connected for the purpose of routing, managing, and storing rapidly changing data. A local area network (LAN), which is restricted by distances of up to one mile, and a metropolitan area network (MAN), which is restricted to distances
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 many users can be immersed in the same simulation, each perceiving it from a personal point of view. VR is used in some electronic gameselectronic game,
device or computer program that provides entertainment by challenging a person's eye-hand coordination or mental abilities. Made possible by the development of the microprocessor, electronic games are marketed in various formats, such as hand-held one-player
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, in amusement-park attractions, in military exercises, and to simulate construction designs. Experimental and envisioned uses include education, industrial design, surgical training, and art.


See H. Rheingold, Virtual Reality (1991); R. A. Earnshaw, Virtual Reality Systems (1993); L. C. Larijani, The Virtual Reality Primer (1994); J. Levy, Create Your Own Virtual Reality System (1995); D. N. Chorafas and H. Steinmann, Virtual Reality: Practical Applications in Business and Industry (1995).

Virtual reality

The simulation of the real world in virtual space by computer programs, allowing for the virtual interaction of users, walking through a computer-generated environment.

virtual reality

[¦vər·chə·wəl rē′al·əd·ē]
(computer science)
A simulation of an environment that is experienced by a human operator provided with a combination of visual (computer-graphic), auditory, and tactile presentations generated by a computer program. Also known as artificial reality; immersive simulation; virtual environment; virtual world.

Virtual reality

A form of human-computer interaction in which a real or imaginary environment is simulated and users interact with and manipulate that world. Users travel within the simulated world by moving toward where they want to be, and interact with things in that world by grasping and manipulating simulated objects. In the most successful virtual environments, users feel that they are truly present in the simulated world and that their experience in the virtual world matches what they would experience in the environment being simulated. This sensation is referred to as engagement, immersion, or presence, and it is this quality that distinguishes virtual reality from other forms of human-computer interaction. See Human-computer interaction

When a user interacts with a virtual environment, the computer-generated graphics display must be updated with each turn of the head or movement of the hand. The virtual environment must be able to generate and display realistic-looking views of the simulated world quickly enough that the interaction feels responsive and natural. See Computer graphics


Virtual reality relies on a variety of specialized input and output devices to achieve this sense of natural interaction.

The most important of the input devices used in a virtual environment, a tracker is capable of reporting its location in space and its orientation. Tracking devices can be optical, magnetic, or acoustic. A tracker is sometimes combined with a traditional computer input device, such as a mouse or a joystick. See Computer peripheral devices

An attempt to provide a truly natural input device, the data glove is outfitted with sensors that can read the angle of each of the finger joints in the hand. Wearing such a glove, users can interact with the virtual world through hand gestures, such as pointing or making a fist. See Strain gage

The real-world visual experience is approximated in virtual environments by using stereoscopic displays. Two views of the simulated world are generated, one for each eye, and a stereoscopic display device is used to show the correct view to each eye.


Virtual reality can be applied in a variety of ways. In scientific and engineering research, virtual environments are used to visually explore whatever physical world phenomenon is under study. Training personnel for work in dangerous environments or with expensive equipment is best done through simulation. Airplane pilots, for example, train in flight simulators. Virtual reality can enable medical personnel to practice new surgical procedures on simulated individuals. As a form of entertainment, virtual reality is a highly engaging way to experience imaginary worlds and to play games. Virtual reality also provides a way to experiment with prototype designs for new products. See Aircraft design, Computer-aided design and manufacturing

virtual reality

a computer-generated environment that, to the person experiencing it, closely resembles reality

virtual reality


1. <application> Computer simulations that use 3D graphics and devices such as the data glove to allow the user to interact with the simulation.

2. <games> A form of network interaction incorporating aspects of role-playing games, interactive theater, improvisational comedy, and "true confessions" magazines. In a virtual reality forum (such as Usenet's news:alt.callahans newsgroup or the MUD experiments on Internet and elsewhere), interaction between the participants is written like a shared novel complete with scenery, "foreground characters" that may be personae utterly unlike the people who write them, and common "background characters" manipulable by all parties. The one iron law is that you may not write irreversible changes to a character without the consent of the person who "owns" it, otherwise, anything goes.

See bamf, cyberspace.

virtual reality

A computer-generated reality that projects the user into a 3D space. Using a stereoscopic headset that provides a completely immersive experience, the virtual reality (VR) system is operated by the user's head and hand movements or a physical control unit, the latter commonly used with virtual reality games. In the early days of VR, data gloves tethered by wires to a computer were used to track hand gestures.

Training and Entertainment
Flight simulators for pilot and astronaut training were the first form of virtual reality, which although extremely expensive, provide a very realistic simulation of the cockpit. Although 3D computer games add more depth and realism than their 2D equivalent, headset-based VR games are much more immersive than viewing a monitor. VR headsets are either entirely self-contained units or a device onto which the user's smartphone is attached (see VR headset, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard).

Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality
"Virtual" reality is an entirely generated environment, whereas "augmented" reality creates images or video in space in front of the user or off to the side (see augmented reality). See 3D visualization, virtual world, head mounted display, 6DOF, cyberspace, VRML and Second Life.

VR at the Dentist
In the late 1990s, VR was employed to keep children entertained at the dentist. Using a game controller, this boy is manipulating the scenes he sees. (Image courtesy of I-O Display Systems,

Spatially Immersive Systems
Fakespace Systems' CAVE products were developed by the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois in the early 1990s. These examples simulate a new train station (top) for observation and a Caterpillar bulldozer for training (below). The bulldozer steering wheel on the left meets the real steering wheel on the right in virtual space. (Images courtesy of Mechdyne Corporation,

Spatially Immersive Systems
Fakespace Systems' CAVE products were developed by the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois in the early 1990s. These examples simulate a new train station (top) for observation and a Caterpillar bulldozer for training (below). The bulldozer steering wheel on the left meets the real steering wheel on the right in virtual space. (Images courtesy of Mechdyne Corporation,
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