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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Virtual Reality

Understanding Virtual Reality: Interface, Application, and Design by William R. Sherman, Alan B. Craig, (Morgan Kaufmann) Exploring the practical applications of virtual reality, both as they currently exist and as they will develop in the next few years, this book begins with a history of information presentation and demonstrates the basic problems that VR has recently been employed to solve.

The aim of this book is to explore the use of virtual reality as a means of sharing information and experiences among people‑as a medium of human communication. We have sought to provide a comprehensive overview of the medium of virtual reality, including the technology required to produce the physically immersive effect and the interface design necessary to provide useful and meaningful content.

Research in virtual reality (VR) is turning the corner from being focused primarily on technology to an increasing focus on what can be done using VR-content is now driving the application. The earlier focus on technology wasn't because researchers lacked interest in what could be done with the emerging medium, but because the technology itself was lacking in many ways. Researchers like Fred Brooks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill aimed their work at usable applications, but recognized that significant advances would be required in the fields of computer graphics, display, and tracking devices among others, and thus were compelled to extend their research in all these directions.

As the required technology has become widely available and of adequate quality, the medium of virtual reality has become a feasible tool for accomplishing research, and not just a topic of research for its own sake. Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enough technological advancement had taken place that more centers of research (in business and academia) could afford to experiment with VR. Now we are on the verge of technology being inexpensive enough not only for larger research facilities, but for the mass market as well. Once this occurs, using and creating VR content will become cost effective at the consumer level. This book explores what is required to develop virtual reality applications for real‑world uses in areas such as science, industry, art, education, and medicine.

Much like the entertainment industry has driven the development of computer graphics, so movies, arcades, and the home entertainment market have been among the first to exploit the commercial possibilities of VR. These forces are what will help bring prices into a reasonable range for more widespread application. Among some niche audiences, many viable scientific, industrial, medical, educational, and artistic applications have already emerged.

The goal in writing this book is to provide a comprehensive volume on the medium of virtual reality, how it can be used, and how to create compelling virtual reality applications. The coverage of this new medium also briefly examines its origins, what comprises a VR system, and the methods of interfacing human partic­ipants with virtual worlds. The authors explore choices of systems and techniques for the creation of VR experiences designed for use by specific populations of society.

Throughout the book, examples are taken from real‑world VR applications, ranging from science, manufacturing, business, medicine, education, sports, arcade entertainment, art, and the military. Four in‑depth VR application case studies are presented in Appendices A‑D. Each application is explored with respect to why it was needed, what had previously been done, how VR was incorporated, what was accom­plished, and where future trends will lead.

This study of the medium of virtual reality ranges from the design and imple­mentation of the hardware that enables VR systems to be built, through how the medium can be used as a new tool, to (hopefully) how to provide greater under­standing, productivity, and interest in VR. As the goal of this book is to investigate and report on the latter, we will briefly discuss the types of virtual reality systems and the differences between them, without going into great detail on the hardware technology. Advances in technology are too rapid to be covered in this volume, and there are other resources available for obtaining this information.


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