Starting with Asimov’s fantastic worlds, people have been obsessed with the way technology can be used to create a parallel reality. We all desire escape from our current reality, or we want to get rid of the ordinary by traveling—at least in our minds—to new places, sometimes even fantastic ones.
Virtual and augmented reality development has strived to offer that in various domains, starting with gaming and expanding to education, retail, and medicine. Yet, it often doesn’t feel real enough. The human mind can still sense something is fake and technical glitches only add to that. It is time for advancement.
Introducing simulated reality (SR)
The sensation of fake comes from the fact that VR and AR only appeal to certain senses and do so using an underlying structure, while reality is continuous. The next logical step would be to make visuals and interaction feel more natural, without possible stops that would unveil the backbone.
Ideally, that would mean getting rid of external devices like the VR headset and creating technology so advanced that it could trick all of our senses at the same time. Reality is a matter of perception, and simulated reality would simply mean that we could switch between settings without feeling this.
To come closer to SR, first, we need to analyze some of the problems of VR to fix them. Currently, VR is created by engaging the senses of hearing and vision through complete isolation from the outside world using a headset. Unfortunately, this device makes the user very aware of the fact that the experience is not genuine. The weight of the headset and restricted range of motion act as limitations of the experience.
Secondly, the interaction in the VR environment requires a learning curve which is more difficult for non-gamers. In VR, the existing gestures have to be redefined, and the user needs to learn a kind of sign language to interact with the surroundings which don’t feel natural. A top implementation would adapt to existing gestures and would feel comfortable even for first-time users.
Another major problem is that the headset can only be used for a limited amount of time. After 20-40 minutes, depending on individual sensitivity, the user is prone to feeling dizzy and will have to conclude their VR session. If there were a way to create the VR sensations without this unwanted side-effect, the entire experience would be far more enjoyable.
The age of SR is just dawning, but some companies are taking the lead and proposing a 3D and VR experience without the headset. The way they intend to do that is through smart screens powered by AI and specially designed composite polymers.
To make this work, the headset could be replaced with top eye-tracking devices which locate the user’s intentions and generate an image which fits their spatial coordinates. To enhance the feeling of reality the user will also interact with the smart screen. A possible upgrade from current devices would be to allow the user to interact with the system more freely, by touching and tapping, gestures all smartphone users already find natural.
This would result in a more fluid experience. The next level is currently just a big dream about a complete experience, engaging all the senses. So far, VR has been built on seeing, hearing and some kinesis that offered an exciting feel, but far from a complete one. Future developments talk about the idea of creating an immersive SR world, complete with touch and smell. By collaborating with other companies at the forefront of technology, someday it could be possible to experience entire universes in an SR capsule.
Possible SR applications
Not even the sky is the limit for SR’s applications. Once configured, such a system could create the illusion of anything from a sports arena to the inside of the human brain or a distant galaxy.
So far, most VR applications have been in gaming, and this area remains a top point of interest. Fans will be more than eager to try the latest crazes and VR tools and to compete against each other in fantasy environments created in the smallest detail, without the additional burden of a headset.
Yet, this type of entertainment should be only the tip of the iceberg. Retail is happy to adopt the latest developments and replace stores and showrooms with virtual environments which have high initial set-up costs but low maintenance. Once the touch and fragrance technologies are developed, the shopping experience can be taken to a whole new level. Currently, the inability to feel fabric or smell perfume are essential drawbacks to online shopping for these areas.
SR will most likely be adopted both by the academic and military sectors. Its ability to create rich sensorial experiences will provide a safe place to practice until perfection.
Healthcare will benefit significantly as SR will replace the traditional teaching methods which required access to body parts or realistic models. SR could assist surgeons in training and other types of specialists to get accustomed to the manifestations of each situation.
The military sector will most likely be an early adopter, as they have countless problems that require extensive training and which could be dangerous and expensive to perform on the field.
What comes next?
We can imagine a world where an SR machine will be as universal as a TV or a computer, a way for the family to be entertained, to learn new things or just to satisfy their curiosities. Through smart materials, these new technologies will not be the closest thing to a time traveling or a teleportation device. The current vision is to create such a screen for any type of device imaginable and to have access to such an experience with the same convenience we now access social media.