What is virtual reality (VR) and how does it work?

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that simulates a computer-generated environment and makes it possible to interact with it in a very realistic way. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, with applications in fields such as gaming, education, healthcare, and entertainment. But what is VR and how can it be applied in production, healthcare and education?

Definition: What does virtual reality mean?

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in an artificial, computer-generated environment and interact with it in real-time. VR can provide an immersive and interactive experience that enables users to visualize and understand complex concepts, simulate human experiences, and explore virtual worlds. Virtual reality is by no means limited to a single space. In fact, it can be used to connect entire worlds, as it is the case in the Metaverse.

When was virtual reality invented? The history of VR

The history of VR dates back to the 1960s, when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland created a prototype head-mounted display (HMD) that could display basic wireframe graphics. Since then, VR technology has advanced significantly, with the development of more sophisticated HMDs, motion tracking, and haptic feedback systems. Nowadays, there are various different terms referring to the creation of digital realities: Augmented reality (AR) vs. virtual reality (VR) vs. mixed reality. But what is the difference?

Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR)

Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) are often used interchangeably, but they are actually distinct technologies:

  • AR adds digital elements to the real world, while VR creates a completely immersive digital environment
  • MR combines elements of both AR and VR, overlaying digital objects onto the real world while also allowing for interaction with virtual elements
  • VR: While in AR an additional layer of information extends reality, this is not the case with VR. Here, it is a matter of leaving the real world and using virtual reality glasses to immerse oneself specifically in a separate universe

In terms of applications, AR is often used in fields such as advertising, retail, and gaming, while VR is more commonly used in industries such as healthcare, architecture, and education. MR, on the other hand, has applications in both entertainment and professional settings, such as virtual product demonstrations or training simulations.

How does virtual reality work?

Virtual reality (VR) works by simulating a realistic 3D environment through a combination of hardware and software.

The functioning of VR technology

The basis of VR technology is an end-to-end mechanism that replaces the natural environment with a deceptively real-looking simulation.

This simulation is strongly oriented to the real world. In order to adapt the digital world to the real world as best as possible, modern AI algorithms are usually used. These have the task of projecting new and familiar elements onto a mathematically defined surface. The result is a virtual world that looks deceptively real to users.

The hardware typically includes a headset or display, motion controllers, and sensors that track the user’s movements and gestures in real-time. The software involves creating a digital environment using computer-generated graphics, audio, and other sensory inputs to simulate a fully immersive experience.

Different types of virtual reality

There are several different types of virtual reality, including fully immersive VR, where the user is completely immersed in a digital environment; semi-immersive VR, which offers a more limited immersive experience; and non-immersive VR, which uses a computer screen or projection system to display a 3D environment without the user being fully immersed.

  • None-immersive virtual reality: None-immersive VR allows only a minimum of interaction with the digital environment. Classic examples are video games or a driving simulator in a driving school
  • Semi-immersive virtual reality: In semi-immersive VR, digital components overlay real objects. The result is that these virtual elements can be used in a similar way to real objects. This makes semi-immersive VR ideal for educational purposes. Common examples are pilot training or the deepening of technical skills
  • Immersive virtual reality: In a fully immersive virtual reality, users perceive only the virtual environment. There is no fixed point of reference to the real world during use. Currently, fully immersive VR technology is found primarily in the gaming industry. Special data glasses, gloves, treadmills or sensory detectors are used here. They all contribute to making the digital environment seem completely real. What is virtual reality and what is the real environment cannot be answered theoretically in such a setting
  • Augmented reality: Augmented reality is also a form of virtual reality. The main difference between the two approaches is the way developers realize the overlap of both worlds. A well-known example of the use of AR are the so-called smart glasses.  For instance, with this tool, it is possible for employees to access real-time data in warehouses
  • Mixed reality: Mixed reality combines the physical and virtual worlds. It is a special form of augmented reality, but is increasingly used in marketing. This technology makes it possible to visualize people or objects in a real context

Components of virtual reality

The components of virtual reality include the display or headset, which is responsible for presenting the virtual environment to the user, and the input devices, such as motion controllers, that allow the user to interact with the digital environment. Other important components include the tracking system, which detects the user’s movements and adjusts the virtual environment accordingly, and the computer system that runs the software and processes the sensory inputs.

  • Headset: The VR headset is one of the most important wearables for users who want to immerse themselves in digital worlds. It replaces the natural field of view with a computer-generated field of view. To make that happen, the wearable integrates infrared LEDs, motion sensors, cameras and screens. They all enable the VR headset to gather relevant information and provide it for the human eye
  • Screens and lenses: Both screens and lenses ensure that the VR experience is as real as possible. The basis for this is the distortion and overlapping of two nearly identical images. A minimal offset creates the desired spatial effect
  • Latency: The field of view and latency provide important information in the real world. Both affect the perception of distance and spatial depth, both in the real and virtual environments. In general, humans can perceive an angle of 200 to 220 degrees. This visible range is in turn subdivided into the monocular and the binocular visual field. Generating these areas accordingly is a central task for modern VR headsets
  • Frame rate: The human eye captures around 1,000 images per second. However, the interpretation rate of the information recorded by the optic nerve is significantly lower. Since central content can be lost if the frame rate is too fast, it is necessary to hit the so-called sweet spot. In VR, this is usually 90 FPS. This means the transmission is decidedly higher than a cinema film, but at the same time slower than everyday life in a big city
  • Position tracking: As before, the transmitted images and sounds are among the most important elements of a successful VR experience. On the other hand, only position tracking in space is even more crucial. Particularly popular here are the so-called 6 degrees of freedom or 6DoF. With such position tracking, end users can move freely in space. In addition, common gestures such as nodding, up and down, forward and backward, but also movement in circular paths are possible. In contrast, the 3DoF only allows moving the head to the right, left, up and down

Virtual reality: Benefits and difficulties

  • One of the primary advantages of VR is its ability to create immersive experiences that can help individuals learn, practice, and explore in a safe and controlled environment. In the field of education, VR can be used to provide students with hands-on experiences that would otherwise be too difficult, expensive, or dangerous to replicate in real life. In a virtual reality simulator, specialists can pass on their knowledge in a targeted manner to less experienced colleagues. At the same time, they can train their own skills in the virtual environment. For this reason, the use of VR has already become established in the aircraft and machine industry sector. Additionally, VR can be used in the field of healthcare to simulate surgeries and train medical professionals
  • Virtual reality makes it possible to hold meetings, training sessions or conferences in virtual rooms. This eliminates the need to travel to the respective locations. Time flexibility and location independence are the decisive factors here, making the technology all the more important
  • Virtual reality supports the personalization of virtual experiences. Haptic and audio stimuli play a central role here. In the long term, VR should make it possible to tailor the user experience to the individual user. This would open up entirely new possibilities in the areas of marketing, entertainment and education
  • VR could make collaboration in companies much easier. At the same time, employees from different locations would have the opportunity to meet directly in the digital space
  • Branding and product realization are also much easier in Virtual reality. The reason for this is that projects can be implemented faster and more cost-effectively. At the same time, experts can participate in meetings from different locations
  • Moreover, Virtual reality technology has the potential to transform the entertainment industry, creating immersive gaming experiences that allow players to become fully immersed in a virtual world

Why is virtual reality so important?

Virtual reality (VR) is important because it has the potential to transform how we interact with and experience the world around us. It provides a new way of experiencing information, allowing individuals to learn, practice, and explore in a safe and controlled environment. Additionally, VR can help to bridge the gap between physical and virtual experiences, creating immersive experiences that can be used for training, therapy, entertainment, and more. As technology continues to advance, virtual reality is poised to become an increasingly important part of our lives, impacting everything from education and healthcare to gaming and entertainment.

Possible challenges

Despite its many benefits, VR technology is not without its challenges. One of the biggest obstacles to widespread adoption is the cost of equipment and development, which can be prohibitive for many organizations and individuals. At the same time, VR technology is not yet equally available in all countries around the world. This is also due to the fact that research in this area has not yet been fully completed.

In addition, there are concerns that VR can cause motion sickness or other adverse health effects, especially for individuals who are prone to these ailments. Apart from that, immersion in virtual worlds can only work properly with sufficient computing power and memory.

Use cases: Virtual reality put into practice

Virtual reality (VR) technology offers a wide range of use cases across various industries. Here are some of the most common applications of VR:

  • Gaming and Entertainment: VR offers gamers an immersive experience, allowing them to become fully immersed in a virtual world. From action-packed games to interactive experiences, VR provides a new way to enjoy entertainment
  • Education and Training: VR can be used in education and training to provide students with hands-on experiences that would otherwise be difficult, expensive, or dangerous to replicate in real life. For example, VR can be used to simulate a science experiment, provide medical students with surgical simulations, or train pilots in flight simulations
  • Healthcare: VR can be used in healthcare to help diagnose and treat medical conditions. For example, VR can be used to help patients with anxiety disorders to overcome their fears or to provide pain management therapy for chronic pain sufferers
  • Real Estate and Architecture: VR can be used in real estate and architecture to provide clients with a virtual tour of a property or building, helping them to visualize the space and make informed decisions
  • Tourism and Hospitality: VR can be used in the tourism and hospitality industry to provide virtual tours of destinations, allowing travelers to explore and experience a place before they book a trip
  • Marketing and Advertising: VR can be used in marketing and advertising to create immersive experiences that engage consumers and promote brand awareness

Virtual reality: Finding the right software solution

Virtual reality (VR) software is a critical component of the VR ecosystem, as it is responsible for creating and delivering the immersive experiences that users enjoy. There are many different types of VR software available, ranging from game engines and development tools to VR content creation software and VR platforms.

Finding the right VR software solution can be challenging, as there are many factors to consider, such as the cost, compatibility, and features of the software.

Which software is best for the individual use of virtual reality, depends on the specific area of application. For example, the use of virtual or augmented reality in construction requires different software solutions than virtual reality in the field of research and development.

It is essential to identify your specific needs and goals before selecting a VR software solution. For example, if you are a developer looking to create VR games, you may need a game engine that is optimized for VR development. Alternatively, if you are a marketer looking to create VR experiences for your clients, you may need a content creation tool that is user-friendly and offers a wide range of customization options.

TeamViewer Frontline Spatial, a modern smart glasses software, is an innovative and safe solution to create an interactive and immersive workplace. The technology can easily be applied and is used in different industries, such as manufacturing or transportation and logistics.

Frontline Spatial Customer Success Story

Audi immersively trains their quality staff and significantly reduces costs.

With the help of Frontline Spatial, workflows for testing a vehicle at Audi can be simplified by displaying important information as holograms in the right places on the car. Contents such as component markings, dimensional information or documentation videos are always visible to the technician everywhere. At the Training Centres of Audi Quality Assurance, augmented reality is used for efficient and faultless training of new employees.