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If the book was advertised as a collection of breif essays about modern technologies I would have been more satisfied. I wanted a linguistic analysis. Even as a collection of essays about modern technologies, the book provides nothing more than Wikipedia pages in a conversational tone.

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Jan 17, Peter rated it liked it. A fun, easy read on how words get introduced into the vocabulary, with a real tech orientation befitting its origins in a Wired magazine column.

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Some of these were a bit obscure to me, revealing I'm sure something about my age and how little time I spend reading blogs. Emily Ellis rated it liked it Nov 17, Gustavo Pugliesi Sachs rated it liked it Jan 02, Lindley rated it it was ok Feb 27, Holls rated it it was ok Sep 19, May 10, Brendan McAuliffe rated it it was ok. Jeff rated it it was ok Feb 16, Meagan rated it liked it Sep 30, Erica rated it liked it Jul 07, Bet rated it liked it Apr 04, Sam Frentzel-Beyme rated it it was ok Apr 01, Alex rated it liked it Apr 15, Silvia rated it it was amazing Nov 04, Maria Pia rated it it was amazing Mar 19, Huw rated it liked it Jan 09, Elise Capron rated it it was amazing Nov 13, David rated it liked it Feb 14, John rated it really liked it Sep 19, Thespleen rated it it was amazing Nov 08, Matthias Fromm rated it liked it Jan 23, Allan Viz added it Oct 25, Kaethe Douglas marked it as to-read Oct 27, Kate marked it as to-read Oct 28, Jackie marked it as to-read Nov 04, Mary marked it as to-read Nov 13, Cheryl marked it as to-read Nov 14, Gnimsh marked it as to-read Dec 29, Sergio Frosini added it Jan 07, Tiffani Warren marked it as to-read Jan 16, Mark marked it as to-read Feb 05, Tony Derricott marked it as to-read Feb 16, Ellie added it Mar 16, M added it Jul 02, Christina marked it as to-read Jul 20, Shalice marked it as to-read Aug 14, Kelsey Jo marked it as to-read Sep 16, Tom added it Mar 30, Ashwin added it Jun 04, Grant Barrett marked it as to-read Jun 16, Barb marked it as to-read Jun 17, Erika marked it as to-read Nov 08, Michael Bell marked it as to-read Nov 24, Gaetan added it Dec 27, Julia Barnes-brown marked it as to-read Jan 28, Emanuela La Rocque marked it as to-read Feb 28, Igraine added it Apr 12, Sarita marked it as to-read Sep 11, Although they didn't have to wear HMDs, they did need stereo glasses to experience full 3D perception.

See something amazing and your natural instinct is to reach out and touch it—even babies do that. So giving people the ability to handle virtual objects has always been a big part of VR. Usually, this is done using datagloves, which are ordinary gloves with sensors wired to the outside to detect hand and figure motions.

One technical method of doing this uses fiber-optic cables stretched the length of each finger. Each cable has tiny cuts in it so, as you flex your fingers back and forth, more or less light escapes. A photocell at the end of the cable measures how much light reaches it and the computer uses this to figure out exactly what your fingers are doing.

Other gloves use strain gauges , piezoelectric sensors , or electromechanical devices such as potentiometers to measure finger movements. Artwork: How a fiber-optic dataglove works. Each finger has a fiber-optic cable stretched along its length. The more you flex your fingers, the more light escapes. This is a simplified version of the kind of dataglove VPL patented in , and you'll find the idea described in much more detail in US Patent 5,, Even simpler than a dataglove, a wand is a stick you can use to touch, point to, or otherwise interact with a virtual world.

It has position or motion sensors such as accelerometers built in, along with mouse-like buttons or scroll wheels. Originally, wands were clumsily wired into the main VR computer; increasingly, they're wireless. Photo: A typical handheld virtual reality controller complete with elastic bands , looking not so different from a video game controller.

VR has always suffered from the perception that it's little more than a glorified arcade game—literally a "dreamy escape" from reality. In that sense, "virtual reality" can be an unhelpful misnomer; "alternative reality," "artificial reality," or "computer simulation" might be better terms. The key thing to remember about VR is that it really isn't a fad or fantasy waiting in the wings to whistle people off to alternative worlds; it's a hard-edged practical technology that's been routinely used by scientists, doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, archaeologists, and the military for about the last 30 years.

What sorts of things can we do with it? Photo: Flight training is a classic application of virtual reality, though it doesn't use HMDs or datagloves. Instead, you sit in a pretend cockpit with changing images projected onto giant screens to give an impression of the view you'd see from your plane. The cockpit is a meticulous replica of the one in a real airplane with exactly the same instruments and controls. Difficult and dangerous jobs are hard to train for. How can you safely practice taking a trip to space, landing a jumbo jet, making a parachute jump, or carrying out brain surgery?

All these things are obvious candidates for virtual reality applications. As we've seen already, flight cockpit simulators were among the earliest VR applications; they can trace their history back to mechanical simulators developed by Edwin Link in the s. Just like pilots, surgeons are now routinely trained using VR. In a study of surgical trainees from 28 different countries, 68 percent said the opportunity to train with VR was "good" or "excellent" for them and only 2 percent rated it useless or unsuitable.

Anything that happens at the atomic or molecular scale is effectively invisible unless you're prepared to sit with your eyes glued to an electron microscope. But suppose you want to design new materials or drugs and you want to experiment with the molecular equivalent of LEGO. That's another obvious application for virtual reality. Instead of wrestling with numbers, equations, or two-dimensional drawings of molecular structures, you can snap complex molecules together right before your eyes.

Photo: If you're heading to Mars, a trip in virtual reality could help you visualize what you'll find when you get there. Apart from its use in things like surgical training and drug design, virtual reality also makes possible telemedicine monitoring, examining, or operating on patients remotely. A logical extension of this has a surgeon in one location hooked up to a virtual reality control panel and a robot in another location maybe an entire continent away wielding the knife.

The best-known example of this is the daVinci surgical robot, released in , of which several thousand have now been installed in hospitals worldwide. Introduce collaboration and there's the possibility of a whole group of the world's best surgeons working together on a particularly difficult operation—a kind of WikiSurgery, if you like!


Although it's still early days, VR has already been tested as a treatment for various kinds of psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia , agoraphobia , and phantom-limb pain , and in rehabilitation for stroke patients and those suffering degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Architects used to build models out of card and paper; now they're much more likely to build virtual reality computer models you can walk through and explore.

By the same token, it's generally much cheaper to design cars, airplanes, and other complex, expensive vehicles on a computer screen than to model them in wood , plastic , or other real-world materials. This is an area where virtual reality overlaps with computer modeling : instead of simply making an immersive 3D visual model for people to inspect and explore, you're creating a mathematical model that can be tested for its aerodynamic, safety, or other qualities. From flight simulators to race-car games, VR has long hovered on the edges of the gaming world—never quite good enough to revolutionize the experience of gamers, largely due to computers being too slow, displays lacking full 3D, and the lack of decent HMDs and datagloves.

All that may be about to change with the development of affordable new peripherals like the Oculus Rift. Like any technology, virtual reality has both good and bad points. How many of us would rather have a complex brain operation carried out by a surgeon trained in VR, compared to someone who has merely read books or watched over the shoulders of their peers? How many of us would rather practice our driving on a car simulator before we set foot on the road?


Or sit back and relax in a Jumbo Jet, confident in the knowledge that our pilot practiced landing at this very airport, dozens of times, in a VR simulator before she ever set foot in a real cockpit? Critics always raise the risk that people may be seduced by alternative realities to the point of neglecting their real-world lives—but that criticism has been leveled at everything from radio and TV to computer games and the Internet.

And, at some point, it becomes a philosophical and ethical question: What is real anyway? And who is to say which is the better way to pass your time? Like many technologies, VR takes little or nothing away from the real world: you don't have to use it if you don't want to.

The promise of VR has loomed large over the world of computing for at least the last quarter century—but remains largely unfulfilled. While science, architecture, medicine, and the military all rely on VR technology in different ways, mainstream adoption remains virtually nonexistent; we're not routinely using VR the way we use computers, smartphones, or the Internet.

But the acquisition of VR company Oculus, by Facebook, greatly renewed interest in the area and could change everything.


Facebook's basic idea is to let people share things with their friends using the Internet and the Web. What if you could share not simply a photo or a link to a Web article but an entire experience? Instead of sharing photos of your wedding with your Facebook friends, what if you could make it possible for people to attend your wedding remotely, in virtual reality, in perpetuity? What if we could record historical events in such a way that people could experience them again and again, forever more?

These are the sorts of social, collaborative virtual reality sharing that we might guess Facebook is thinking about exploring right now. If so, the future of virtual reality looks very bright indeed! So much for the future, but what of the past. Virtual reality has a long and very rich history. Here are a few of the more interesting highlights Artwork: The first virtual reality machine? Morton Heilig's Sensorama. Here are a few of the original, pioneering patents filed by Jaron Lanier and his colleagues at VPL Research in the s.

All rights reserved. Full copyright notice and terms of use. Please rate or give feedback on this page and I will make a donation to WaterAid. Woodford, Chris. Virtual reality. Sponsored links. Can VR cure your fear of spiders? A fascinating look at Microsoft's research into haptic touch-based VR controllers. Hands-free VR is coming soon, to a computer game near you! The New York Times, February 26, Look to the Past by Steven Johnson. The New York Times, November 3, What can the history of 19th-century stereoscopic toys tell us about the likely future of VR?

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The New York Times, November 19, Musicians, filmmakers, and games programmers try to second-guess the future of VR. Whatever happened to Virtual Reality? Why NASA decided to revisit virtual reality 20 years after the technology first drew attention in the s. Virtual Reality: Oxymoron or Pleonasm? Wiley-IEEE, Popular VR textbook covering history, programming, and applications.

O'Reilly, An up-to-date introduction for VR developers that covers everything from the basics of VR to cutting-edge products like the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. Craig, William R. Sherman, and Jeffrey D. Morgan Kaufmann,