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Last edited 15 Nov 2023
A brief history of virtual reality
 Defining what is meant by virtual reality
The term 'virtual reality' (VR) today refers to a simulated environment in which an interactive computer-generated user experience can take place. It typically uses VR headsets or multi-projected environments, as a means of generating images, sounds and sensations that are completely immersive for the user, simulating (the illusion) of a real environment that the user can observe or interact with. This differs slightly from augmented reality (AR), which is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or information. In other words, AR is a blend of the real environment with the virtual in which the former is enhanced in some way by the latter, where as VR is not.
Historically the nature of immersive environments or environments that were considered as real by the viewers can be connected back to a series of visual or illusionary developments as early as the 1800's. Early stereoscopes, where by two images viewed by each eye through viewer gave an increased sense of depth and immersion to the image, possibly the most well known of these being the View-Master stereoscope which was patented in 1939. These simple early immersive tools can be relatively easily recreated today with a mobile phone and a make shift headset, presenting two images one to each eye.
Another related development around the same time, that went beyond visual trickery, to build a physical environment that reacted to the user was called the Link trainer. This was a small cabin which used as a flight simulator, developed by Edward Link and patented in 1931, the device is said to have helped train over 500,000 pilots. In the 1930's a vision of some kind of virtual reality, similar to what we know of today was described in the book Pygmalion’s Spectacles written by the science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum.
The early 1960's saw Morton Heilig, a cinematographer develop the Telesphere Mask and the Sensorama which were patented immersive moving film environments, whilst two engineers Comeau & Bryan developed a magnetic motion tracking head mounted device that was used for interactive training by the military. Also at this time the engineer Thomas Furness further developed Human Interface Technology into his flight simulator and Ivan Sutherland developed a concept for what he described as the “Ultimate Display”.
A few years later working with his student Bob Sproull, Ivan Sutherland created the first computer generated version of a VR headset, known as the Sword of Damocles because of its size and weight. This is by many considered the first version of virtual reality and in some ways augmented, as we know it today, with computer generated, at that time very basic, environments and three dimensional spaces. Artificial reality, is another related term that was used to decribe the work of Myron Kruegere a virtual reality computer artist, using these technologies a few years later.
 Virtual reality today
Today virtual reality headsets are readily available often focussed on the gaming and entertainment industries, both virtual and augmented reality are now used in many different fields, from tourism to training, culture to healthcare, education, therapy, communication and also design and construction. In construction the virtual reality usually takes the form of simulated building, structure or space in which users can immerse themselves prior to it being constructed in reality. This enables designers and other construction professionals to test ideas, components and features before committing them for construction. It can also help identify potential conflicts or problems before construction work has started and alterations become more costly. Augmented reality can also be used to check an existing building or one that is recently complete, and in particular for fire and safety training.
- 3D MOVE: Mobile Immersive Visualisation Environment.
- Advanced construction technology.
- Augmented reality in construction.
- Big data.
- Computer-generated imagery (CGI).
- ConTech in a post lockdown, pre-vaccine economy.
- Customised virtual reality health and safety training.
- Eyeware app.
- Immersive Hybrid Reality iHR.
- Information for the buildings of tomorrow.
- Mixed reality.
- Spark framework RM6094.
- The impact of digital on civil engineering.
- User experience UX.
- Virtual reality in construction.
- Virtual construction model.
- Virtual reality and big data disrupting digital construction.
- Virtual reality and manufacturing.
- Virtual reality construction experience for students.
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