Magazine article Science News

Technology More Virtual Than Real

Magazine article Science News

Technology More Virtual Than Real

Article excerpt

A medical student training to become a surgeon sits before a computer system equipped to enable her to see, hear, and feel a simulated, or virtual, heart. Without leaving her room, a teenager spends an evening shopping for a dress at her "synthetic environment" station, selecting fabrics and styles, then "trying on" the virtual outfits. An automotive engineer evaluates the control system of a new car by taking its virtual counterpart for a spin on a computer-mediated electronic highway.

Such are the dreams of researchers interested in virtual reality -- systems in which a human operator can interact with a computer-generated world (SN: 1/4/92, p.8). But a National Research Council committee now cautions that a substantial gap exists between the technology available today and the technology needed to bring virtual environments closer to reality.

"Even the demonstrations of what are considered advanced [synthetic environment] research systems that can be seen at various universities, military installations, and industrial laboratories sometimes leave technically sophisticated observers who have no vested interest in the technology unimpressed," the panel asserts in its report, "Virtual Reality: Scientific and Technological Challenges." Nathaniel I. Durlach of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chaired the committee, and Anne S. Mavor of the National Research Council served as study director.

A key issue concerns user comfort. Most applications of virtual reality to date have involved relatively short demonstrations, generally requiring bulky paraphernalia (especially headgear). …

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