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Whatever happened to virtual reality? By Louise Joselyn.
Back in the 1980s, virtual reality (VR) appeared to have incredible potential. Unfortunately, the technology was hyped way beyond its short term potential both by the media and in fiction. From Red Dwarf to The Matrix and from Ray Bradbury in 1951, through Tad William’s Otherland to Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga, VR has made the fantastic seem feasible. But it wasn’t. Then. Now, VR is fast emerging in various industries, but with a curiously low profile. Which leads to the nub of the problem. Most potential applications required a supercomputer to handle the complex processing. Only large corporations, well funded research centres and governments could afford it. Since then, prices of high performance compute engines have tumbled, whilst the performance of affordable desktop machines, complete with high speed graphics and high resolution displays, has skyrocketed. The revolution in games technology and 3d cad are two of the more visible results. Stimulated by advances in 3d image processing, computer graphics, modelling and rendering, VR technology is now being deployed widely, not just in games, but also in engineering. The development of head mounted displays for truly immersive viewing, high fidelity, sound surround audio systems and increasingly effective haptic and tactile interfaces, makes VR a versatile tool, moving it beyond its classic application in engineering visualisation and flight simulators, though these remain important markets.