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  • Annika Santhanam

The Science Behind Virtual Reality

Have you seen the movie “Ready player one?” It’s all about VR (Virtual Reality). This movie follows Wade Watts, a teenager who’s an avid player in a virtual world called the Oasis. In the Oasis, you can look, sound, and live like anything. Wade’s virtual persona is PARZIVAL, a famous player in the pixelated universe. He, along with many other players, compete against each other to get the first of three keys for a competition created by the Oasis’s creator, James Halliday. The person who finds all three keys gains inheritance of a lot of money and complete control of the oasis. However, a company called IOI is seeking to win the competition purely to take over the Oasis and change it for their own purposes. PARZIVAL and his friend, Aech, team up with another amazing player, Art3mis, to win the competition and save the Oasis from IOI. Virtual reality is brought to the forefront in this movie.

So, What is VR?

VR, or virtual reality, is an amazing form of wearable technology that allows you, the user, irrespective of your physical location, to mentally travel to a virtual world for an immersive experience that encompasses the ability to touch, smell, hear, and see your surroundings. With VR, you could travel virtually anywhere (get it?). With VR, you get a real experience just like you are physically present in the environment and undergoing the experience.

You could see the leaning tower of Pisa or even the Great Wall of China. You can play games in virtual reality and possibly stand in the middle of a battlefield on Tatooine. The possibilities are endless, and today, virtual reality is being used for scientific, medical and archaeological purposes, along with being a form of entertainment!

How Did VR Evolve?

Virtual reality first stemmed from panoramic paintings, which surrounded the viewer, making them feel like they were actually in the historic scene they were viewing. Then, in 1838, stereoscopic viewers were invented. These were the ancestors of the Google Cardboard headsets today. Later on in the 1950s, the Sensorama was created by Morton Heilig. This machine allowed the viewer to watch an animated film while feeling like they were actually in the film by being subjected to different types of sensations, like wind blowing in their face or the smell of something in the scene. This was also marked the beginning of 4D entertainment.

The first head-mounted 3D display was also created by Morton Heilig in 1960, but it didn’t include motion trackers, so if you moved your head or your arms, the scene in front of you wouldn’t change. But 8 years later in 1968, a virtual reality headset that heavily resembled the headsets we have today was created by Ivan Sutherland and his student, Bob Sproull. It was the very first head-mounted VR/AR display. It was connected to a computer, not a camera, and it was so complicated and heavy that it had to be mounted on the ceiling, with the goggles at the height of the person’s eyes. Additionally, because of its complexity and weight, the user had to be strapped in to the machine. The images displayed consisted of primitive wireframe objects and rooms.

After this amazing innovation, the world of VR expanded greatly. Virtual reality games came to the public, where users could explore worlds and play many different games using virtual reality headsets. Then, as technology advanced, headsets with higher-quality images, sounds, and motion tracking were developed, and became the widespread VR headsets we know and use today.

How Does It Work?

VR mainly consists of a headset with a slot to put a device, such as your phone, in front of the lenses for you to look through. You would download a special VR app on your phone, open it up, and put it into the headset. When you put the headset on, you’ll feel like you’re inside of the world or scene you’re looking at on the screen.

You can try it our right at home with google carboard VR glasses. You can order the kit online and follow the directions. Its easy to put together and use. The more sophisticated the VR goggles and headphone the more realistic is your experience. The most-used and newest headsets are the Vive and Rift headsets.

VR has expanded the technology to include hand controls to enable you to interact with your virtual world with your hands, and even omni-directional treadmills have been created to allow the VR user to walk endlessly through their world in any direction without bumping into things in the real world.

In the movie ‘Ready Player One’, the OASIS is accessible through virtual reality equipment. The main character, Wade Watts, is shown in the beginning of the movie using a virtual reality headset, handheld controllers, and an omni-directional treadmill. This allows him to walk anywhere in the OASIS and interact with anything inside the virtual world. In the movie, Wade also makes a big purchase on a full-body virtual reality suit that allows him to feel things inside the Oasis. For example, he gets punched in the gut in the Oasis, and he feels that with the suit, since it provides haptic feedback.

In real life, Rudimentary versions of these full body suits for virtual reality do exist, and one of these suits is marketed by Teslasuit. These haptic feedback suits are advertised on their website, mostly targeting game developers, arcade owners, and enterprise representatives. As this technology becomes more widespread and easier to produce, we might just see these suits in our everyday lives, or we even may be living in an Oasis of our own.

How Is VR Being Used in Real Life?

VR is not only used for gaming through systems like Oculus Rift (invented by Palmer Luckey as a high-tech gaming system that completely immerses the user with motion tracking, high-quality sound, and sensors), or for touring places in the world. It’s also been used for a multitude of scientific and archaeological reasons.

For example, in Egypt, many of the tombs of great kings and queens have stunning artwork on its inner walls, but nothing is like the artwork in the tomb of Queen Nefertari, beloved wife of Ramesses II, located in the Valley of the Queens near Luxor. The artwork inside the tomb has been compared to Italy’s Sistine Chapel because of its immense beauty. Restoration processes discovered that bacteria and fungi inside the tomb damaged some of the paintings, and humidity led to the growth of these damaging organisms. Therefore, the tomb isn’t open to the public. Only small groups of people who pay 1000 Egyptian pounds are allowed to enter the tomb for a tour. This ensures that the humidity from the outside environment doesn’t enter the tomb in large amounts and allow for the bacteria and fungi to grow again and destroy the paintings. However, a new fix has come to this problem. Instead of physical tours, which could harm to tomb, why not conduct virtual tours using VR? Experius VR sent three people to Nefertari’s tomb to 3D-scan it and take thousands of overlapping high-resolution images. It took two days to finish scanning and photographing it, and it took two months to string together the final virtual reality tour. According to, “The finished tour can now be downloaded for free on Steam and Viveport and Curiosity Stream VR although currently you need to Vive headset to view it.”

Additionally, VR is currently being used as a form of therapy for people with an extreme fear of heights. Instead of a real-life therapist guiding patients through treatment, a virtual guide inside the VR game guides the user through a series of activities that involve extreme heights, such as saving a cat from a tree. According to, “An animated counselor guides the user through a virtual 10-story office complex, where upper floors overlook a ground-level atrium. On every floor, the user performs tasks designed to test their fear responses and help them learn that they’re safer than they might think.” This new fully automated counseling system could help therapeutic methods expand out of counseling offices and into care clinics, or even people’s homes. This would also solve the problem of people being uncomfortable or not able to meet face-to-face with a therapist, since the virtual therapist helps the patient inside the game. Users in a clinical trial reported that after only two weeks, they felt much more at ease with heights. This new form of therapy is revolutionary and could expand to help people with paranoia, common phobias, and social anxiety.

There you have it! Virtual reality is an amazing outlet for entertainment, virtual travel, and even scientific discoveries. We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for virtual reality technology. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles!


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