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GS Paper 3: Technology – Awareness in the fields of IT, space, robotics, nano technology and bio technology.


Virtual reality is an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment. On a computer, virtual reality is primarily experienced through two of the five senses: sight and sound. The simplest form of virtual reality is a 3-D image that can be explored interactively at a personal computer, usually by manipulating keys or the mouse so that the content of the image moves in some direction or zooms in or out. More sophisticated efforts involve such approaches as wrap-around display screens, actual rooms augmented with wearable computers, and haptics devices that let you feel the display images.


Key takeaways                                                 

Depth of information and Breadth of information: The depth of information is mainly the richness of the input data a user receives. It is the quality of display graphics, resolution, and sophistication of audio quality and complexity of the induced environment. The breadth of information, on the other hand, refers to the number of senses the stimulation engages. It can be a combination of auditory, visual, haptic, olfactory or all of these together, higher the breadth of information, richer the experience.

Latency: You are standing on a railway platform, waiting for a train. Suddenly, you feel your nose tingle as you sharply inhale a sudden gust of cold wind. You cast your eyes towards the sky, looking for an oncoming storm, but only see a vast blanket of gray clouds, looming eerily. You’re able to hear the faint hiss of a guzzling engine in the distance as a shrill whistle rams itself against your eardrums, and you look towards your left, at the oncoming Soviet-era train, billowing puffs of smoke into the dark clouds. Well technically as the train approaches you, thanks to the Doppler Effect, you should be able to notice a shift in its sound patterns. Those two things, the movement of the train towards you and its sound should together create a realistic effect. Change of sound and vision perspective according to the user’s position in the environment is vital to creating an immersive illusion. If there is a delay in what the user sees and feels, this illusion crumbles, and the user becomes aware of being in a VRE. Such a “lag” or “delay” in the action by the user and time of reflection of by the environment is known as LATENCY. Studies have found that humans can detect latency of 50 milliseconds.

Existing VR technologies: The first VR device ever built was designed by Morton Heilig, a cinematographer by profession. He built a machine called Sensoroma which successfully encompassed all the senses of the user in an effective manner. Going by the standards of that era, it was a very compact machine; intuitively built to create an immersion experience.


  • HMD – Head Mounted Displays: The first and the most popular is the Head Mounted Displays (HMD). These are the giant goggle-esque VR headsets we’ve seen everywhere. They are worn on the head with a display which cover the entire field of vision; headphones are also worn on the sides. They can track head movement with the help of little gyration sensors which detect movement and change the perspective in the VRE accordingly.
  • CAVE – Cave Automatic Virtual Environment

The cave is a result of a brilliantly simple concept. The idea is to create an immersive virtual environment by projecting images on the walls of a room. The user wears a pair of 3D glasses attached with sensors. These glasses help the computer track the person’s movement and change the projections displayed on the walls accordingly. Setting up a CAVE is expensive as it requires high definition projectors and screens. Also, it can be used by only one person at a time.

  • BOOM – Bionic Omni Orientation Monitor

This is a direct ancestor to HMD. The human brain perceives depth only because it has two eyes for visual input. Each eye sees a slightly different angle of the same scene. These two separate views are combined in the brain to form a single, 3D image, with parts of the data from each eye used to work out relative distances. This is where BOOM comes in the scene. It consists of a 3D display that swivels freely suspended from a weighted bottom. It’s usually attached to a trolley or the ceiling.


Advantages of VR

  • When someone is learning something new, it is very risky for them to get a chance to try it on field. It could cause a loss of precious life, millions of dollar or they could even harm themselves. For doctors, it could be lethal for the patients; for army personnel, it could be dangerous; for engineers, an actual hands on experience on the field could lead to accidents. However, with virtual reality simulators, they could get real time experience without causing any harm to themselves, another person or to an expensive equipment.
  • In addition to that the games are equipped with immersive videos and sound that allows people to actually kick a ball and experience the sounds of a stadium or punch a man and find themselves in the middle of a wrestling match. This is almost a leap forward for the gaming and technology industry.
  • With virtual reality softwares, the architects, designers and engineers could actually experience their structures standing erect. It will help them analyze flaws in the design and evaluate better versions. It will also prevent them from creating structures prone to disaster since if the structures are not strong enough, the virtual reality design will simulate the toppling.
  • Virtual reality can reduce so many costs. It can allow you to hold meetings without spending money on traveling, saving fuel, energy and consequently, money. It can allow training workshops and simulations to be held in your work-space saving time. It can also allow doctors to examine patients without really having to travel to them which will not only save money but also the lives of the far more critical patients who need immediate attention.


Disadvantages of VR

  • The quipments used in virtual reality are very expensive.
  • It consists of complex technology.
  • In virtual reality environment we cant move by our own like in the real world.
  • Because virtual reality is such a new technology, many of the applications have not been tested properly yet. Glitchy graphics can cause vertigo and nausea, and sometimes individuals have a hard time deciphering what is real and what is virtual. Most risks involved in virtual reality applications are currently unknown.


Previous Year Questions

  1. What is a digital signature? What does its authentication mean? Give various salient built-in features of a digital signature. (2013)
  2. Scientific research in Indian universities is declining, because a career in science is not as attractive as are business professions, engineering or administration, and the universities are becoming consumer-oriented. Critically comment. (2014)
  3. India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) which has a database containing formatted information on more than 2 million medicinal formulations is proving a powerful weapon in country’s fight against erroneous patents. Discuss the pro and cons of making the database available publicly available under open source licensing.