SEEING AND FEELING
In virtual reality (VR) experiments, people wearing special headsets are able to "see" an environment. This is especially
helpful in designing new environments, whether the floor plan
of a building or the layout of a warship. A UNC research
project not only allows you to "see" what an environment
looks like but also what it "feels" like. Hybrid reality allows
users to actually feel and bump into the objects seen in the
virtual environment. Researchers hope to find out if virtual
environments seem more real when users cannot walk
through virtual walls or solid objects, as they have been able
to do in most VR environments.
A reasercher moves around the styrofoam model kitchen (I) while seeing the synthetic
visual model ( 2) through the headset. Both models are based on an actual kitchen ( 3).
Sutherland urged his colleagues to
think of the computer screen as a window
and to work to make what they saw
through that window"look real, sound
real ... feel real."
It was a speech, Brooks recalls, "that
wonderfully fired the imagination."
And it led to what we now know as
virtual reali ty.
The much-hyped virtual reality essen-
tially is a process by which a computer-
generated environment is substituted for
an actual one "either by a head-mounted
display, which occludes the real world and
substitutes stereo images, or by means ofa
cubicle ofscreens on which you project a
virtual world that surrounds you."
"That's the key," Brooks said, "this
"And you should be able to interact
with objects in the virtual world.
"So ifyou 'grab'-dangerous word-
a virtual object, the object should 'move'
as ifyou were holding it."
Brooks, however, dislikes the term vir-
tual reality. He prefers"synthetic environ-
ments." But he snllles a little sadJy as he
''I'm afraid it [virtual reality] has stuck."
Thirty years after Sutherland's speech,
Brooks' faith in computer graphics and
virtual reality as worthy pursuits clearly
has been vindicated.
Virtual reality has gone from being a
distant goal of long-tern. research to a real
technology with proliferating applications.
And in the past decade, The New York
Times, New Scientist, Business Vlieek, The Econ-
ornist and Scientific American all have covered
computer graphics projects at UNe.
Today these projects often are collabo-
rations between UNC computer scientists
and researchers at Harvard,Johns Hopkins
and other institutions-as well as faculty
in other UNC divisions such as the med-
Many industries use virtual reality for
vehicle simulations, Brooks notes-simu-
lating airplane flight, truck driving, ship
Anwng their other projects, Brooks
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