Virtual reality: simulation of a natural environment using electronic and computer technologies. Through the use of devices specifically designed for this purpose, such as VR viewers and motion controllers, the user can interact with the virtual world around him as if he were genuinely immersed in that environment.
We are in a historical moment in which technology has reached a level of development that makes the boundaries between the natural world and the digital world increasingly blurred. One of the most exciting innovations that has taken hold in recent years is virtual reality, which increasingly exploits the potential of artificial intelligence. Virtual reality (VR) offers multiple possibilities of use; it finds application both in the field of entertainment and video games and in professional fields such as education, architecture, medicine, and many other sectors.
For example, virtual reality can become an additional learning tool for new professionals in the construction sector, offering them interactive simulations that allow them to acquire practical skills in a safe and efficient environment. Let’s proceed in order and first try to define virtual reality and then outline the main typologies in which it can manifest itself.
What Is Virtual Reality, And How Does It Work?
Virtual reality can be defined as a three-dimensional simulated environment generated through the use of IT devices that offer the user the possibility of interacting in real time with surrounding objects, thus giving the impression of actually being in that environment.
Visors for sight, gloves for touch, and earphones for hearing are the bridge between the real and virtual worlds, as they convey the digital environment to the senses and allow complete immersion in the simulation. Thanks to motion sensors and controllers, it is possible to precisely track the user’s movements, allowing the latter to interact naturally and fluidly with the virtual environment.
The Main Types Of virtual reality
There are different types of virtual reality, each with its peculiarities. Below is a brief description of the three main ones: immersive VR, non-immersive VR, and mixed VR.
Fully Immersive Virtual Reality
Immersive virtual reality creates a new digital and three-dimensional environment that can simulate or differ entirely from the real world, in which the user immerses himself, isolating himself from the natural context. Those who experience it, therefore, have the impression of being genuinely immersed in that environment, thanks to the use of technological devices such as viewers, movement sensors, and controllers.
Immersive VR offers users the most realistic simulation experience in the virtual world. Through the use of a VR viewer, a stereoscopic 3D effect is created, which, combined with input tracking (hands, body, head, or voice), allows the user to immerse themselves in and interact with a 3D world.
Non-Immersive Virtual Reality
Non-immersive virtual reality offers a less immersive simulation experience than immersive VR but allows users to remain connected to their physical surroundings. For this type of virtual reality, the use of a VR viewer and a user movement tracking system is not necessary. Non-immersive VR is generated with computers or video game consoles and with the help of input devices such as keyboards, mice, and controllers. Video games are the classic example of a non-immersive VR experience, given that the player controls the surrounding environment through characters and not himself at the ‘center’ of the simulation.
Semi-Immersive Virtual Reality
Semi-immersive virtual reality is a combination of immersive and non-immersive VR. This is a technology generated by a computer or a VR box that does not create a completely immersive environment but still offers the user the possibility of moving as if he were really inside a virtual world. For example, Gear VR, which is Samsung’s headset created in collaboration with Oculus, uses a smartphone to access virtual reality.
The Difference Between Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, And Mixed Reality
Augmented reality (AR) can be defined as an interactive experience that enhances the user’s sensory perception of the natural world, adding information that otherwise could not be perceived with the five senses. Augmented reality, therefore, enriches the user experience, offering information and digital content generated through the use of IT devices and the help of software, apps, and hardware such as AR glasses.
Virtual reality involves the creation of a new, entirely digital environment that isolates the user from the natural context. In AR, however, the actual environment remains unchanged but is enriched by additional multimedia information. Furthermore, unlike virtual reality, which requires the use of dedicated devices, augmented reality can be enjoyed on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets or even simply on PCs equipped with a camera.
Finally, mixed reality (MR) combines virtual reality and augmented reality, allowing the user to interact with the natural world and the virtual environment simultaneously, manipulating physical and virtual objects. The examples are numerous and range from simple AR filters used on Instagram to more advanced viewers, such as Meta Quest 3 and Apple Vision Pro. Its goal is to create immersive and interactive experiences that combine the best of the physical and virtual worlds, opening up new perspectives and possibilities in the use and interaction of digital content.
Virtual reality systems offer great potential for both consumers and businesses. On the one hand, they represent a significant evolution in information and entertainment, allowing consumers to immerse themselves in immersive and realistic experiences. On the other hand, they enable new ways of doing business for companies, opening doors to innovations, collaborations, and solutions that were previously unthinkable.
For people, virtual reality offers the opportunity to explore virtual worlds, participate in interactive games, and experience virtual trips. For companies, it is an excellent opportunity to improve the customer experience by providing realistic and interactive simulations of products and services that can influence purchasing processes. The ability to interact with virtual objects and realistically explore them, in fact, offers the user a more complete and engaging experience compared to the use of traditional media. This is pushing more and more companies to explore and adopt this technology as an integral part of their marketing and sales strategies.