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No Sex, Just Bunny

From C'ville Review
February 10, 1993

By Jennifer Niesslein

E ver wonder what UVA-ites are doing when they're not contributing to C'ville traffic? Some of them are studying Virtual Reality, the emerging interactive technology that supposedly puts humans into video scenarios.

Fifteen to twenty faculty members, plus graduate and undergraduate students in the computer science department of the Engineering School, are perfecting this new medium.

Randy Pausch, head of the VR lab, compares the state of VR to film and television at their inception. "It will be as big an impact-in the long run, a society-shaping medium." VR differs from those predecessor media because it lets you interact with what you see (although for now you never get the sensation you are actually touching objects in view).

Currently, the UVA virtual reality experience entails a helmet with two mini-screens - one for each eye - to give the 3-D effect. Plus the VR lab has various hand equipment, from a flashlight on a string that simulates a light saber (yeah, like Star Wars) to controls that simulate actual hands. The images that "surround" you are cartoonish, having been drawn by computers and members of UVA's architecture school.

"VR is horribly overhyped," Pausch says. "If it happens, it won't happen [to expectations] for decades." In other words, don't believe what you hear about the possibility of virtual sex.

But already VR has made a mark at UVA. Perceptual psychology professor Dennis Prophet has used the VR in his experiments, and the UVA Drama Department used it to mock up sets.

Although Pausch is more concerned with developing VR than possible applications for it, he did offer some predictions. "Entertainment, by dollar value, is the only [application] that matters in the next two years," he says. Beyond that, he predicts future applications will be mostly "in medicine and maybe education." The military has used VR to train soldiers since the late seventies.

"Augmented reality," an offshoot of VR, may be the most useful form of VR, according to Pausch. Augmented reality allows users to retain their vision of the real world, but transcribes computer-generated images on top of it. For example, augmented reality might allow doctors to see ultrasound fetal images in the context of the actual woman's body.

As it stands, VR has a way to go before it becomes as common as a television. "The packaging," Pausch says, "has to get down to sunglasses." Game-maker Nintendo postponed the December release of its VR-like headset due to user dizziness. Hold your horses, C'ville. VR is fun, but it has problems to overcome. My virtual reality experience gave me an actual reality headache.

Original Article | Local Copy


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