Virtual reality technology in business Patel Himanshu; Cardinali, Richard. Management Decision 32. 7 (1994): 5

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Virtual reality technology in business

Patel Himanshu; Cardinali, Richard. Management Decision 32.7 (1994): 5.

Abstract (summary)

The past 2 decades have seen the development of a new stream of research in the field of virtual reality. Its primary use was thought to be entertainment, but as research continued the applications to more practical areas, all forms of business can and are benefiting from virtual reality research. In the hands of architects, designers, artists, advertisers, engineers, and scientists, virtual reality simulations can be a very powerful tool. Product design, development, testing, and training potential can take quantum leaps. The medical industry has been exploring the use of virtual reality in simulation surgery. Stanford Medical School and NASA have developed a prototype of a simulated patient so that entire operations can be performed on virtual patients.

Full Text

It has been called cyberspace, virtual environment, simulations, artificial worlds and virtual reality. It is a computer-generated reality. The computerized data that are virtual reality take on a "tangible" form allowing people to immerse themselves in this digitized world, and experience the sense of moving, and becoming a part of the program. Within a virtual environment, one can fly, swim, run, walk through buildings and create whatever their minds can think of. In a sense, thought can become a digitized reality. The promise of virtual reality has such enormous potential for businesses from education to government, to entertainment, virtually every form of business imaginable.

William Gibson coined the phrase "Cyberspace" in his novel Neuromancer. He described a dimension where a global computer network linked humans and computers, allowing them to interact with images as tangible as any real objects. As virtual reality becomes more and more commonly used, Gibson's Cyberspace dimension may just become reality.

Businesses will be able to realize the potential of virtual reality as it enhances job performance, training, product design, medical/science, and industrial technologies, and develops creative interactive forms of entertainment. Developers of virtual reality engines (as they like to call them) see it as a way of assisting humans in a more creative form of thinking rather than making more intelligent machines. During the hearings on American competitiveness, the then Vice-presidential candidate Al Gore stated that the potential of virtual reality is so crucial that the Government should invest heavily in its development. Already, some of the industrial giants such as Boeing, NASA, IBM, AT&T, General Motors, BMW, and many others have invested millions on virtual reality developers such as VPL, Fake Space Labs, Virtual Reality Incorporated, Sense8, Simgraphics, and Autodesk.

Virtual reality simulations will be able to provide businesses with considerable. amounts of data when used properly and to its fullest potential. Virtual reality applications have travelled beyond their use as flight simulators. The simulations produced can provide businesses with data that can help detect flaws in product design, and allow corrections and modifications to be made to the simulated prototype, thus saving millions in real prototype development. One does not need to be totally immersed in the simulation to achieve the full use of virtual reality. Although some simulations are displayed solely on a computer screen, they can still provide vital data that mere numbers cannot.

Virtual Reality Tools

Before we begin discussing the benefits that businesses will reap from virtual reality, we will need briefly to review the hardware associated with creating the simulations that businesses will be using. Generally, the hardware consists of a head-mounted display capable of providing a 180 degrees field of view horizontally, and an approximate vertical field of view of 75 degrees, a sensor. laden data glove, and for more highly immersed systems, a full motion platform or treadmill. Nearly all of the hardware used to create virtual realities operates similarly. The head motion tracking is comprised of a Polhemus 3Space Isotrak system that will measure head motion in 6 degrees of freedom. Magnetic sensors mounted on the device register the head's position (x, y, and z) and orientation (yaw, pitch and roll). The head-mounted displays appear in various forms. Some are complete masks resembling a helmet, while others appear to be futuristic binoculars. The head-mounted displays need not block the user's face either. Reflection technologies have developed a head-mounted display that actually display the image on the retina, thereby avoiding the use of an intermediary display screen. The data glove is a computer input device which converts the hand gestures and positions into computer readable form. Magnetic and optical fibre sensors mounted across the glove monitor flexion and extension of the fingers as well as position and orientation. Depending on the hardware and software being used, the data glove may be used to initiate processes by simply gesturing or pointing to the process. Most data gloves operate on a 30 to 60-second data transfer rate, and can be synchronized to two-handed use. The communication interface will vary with the hardware in use. In highly immersed virtual reality systems, the user is also wearing a full-body sensor suit. The suit is also covered with magnetic and fibre-optic sensors operating in a similar fashion to the data glove. A motion platform is used to provide the user with a sensation of motion when travelling through the virtual environment. The treadmill, like all other components, is connected to a central computer system.

Fake Space Inc.'s virtual reality system, "Molly", is a tele-operated camera platform capable of providing a stereoscopic view. StereoGraphics Corporation has also developed a head-mounted display called "CrystalEyes VR", which is capable of alternating left and right images at 120 frames per second, creating true flicker-free full-colour depth perception. Virtual reality hardware can range in price anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Virtual Reality as a Technological Tool

In the hands of architects, designers, artists, advertisers, engineers and scientists, virtual reality simulations can be a very powerful tool. Product design, development, testing, and training potential can take quantum leaps. The medical industry has been exploring the use of virtual reality in simulation surgery. The high-resolution display enables surgeons to view the minute blood vessels in enlarged three-dimensional detail. Stanford Medical School and NASA have developed a prototype of a simulated patient so that entire operations can be performed on virtual patients. New techniques and rare and intricate operations can be performed and tested. Risk avoidance for a virtual patient undergoing a new and risky operation will no longer be paramount. Medical interns will also benefit from operating on virtual patients. Surgeons would be able to view diseased areas from within the patient. Magnetic resonance imaging would allow the physicians to view images of any part of the anatomy from any angle at any depth they choose. Professor Henry Fuches, of the University of North Carolina, and two graduate students have been working on a method of superimposing the images produced from an ultrasound directly on the womb of the mother, thereby providing the physicians with a more accurate picture and position of the foetus. Since its inception, Professor Fuches has been enhancing his technology to provide more "real-world" images such as depth and shading, thus giving the illusion of a recessed pit. Scientists at Stanford Medical School, North Western University, and MIT have developed a model of a human leg that surgeons can view from any angle and also allows internal examination of the joints. Renderman and other over-the-counter rendering software were used to provide the correct tones of tissue colour. Simulated patients have an advantage over cadavers in that a virtual patient can mimic body resilience, the heart will still pump vital fluids throughout the body, tissues and organs can twitch. All this is impossible with a cadaver. The Loma Linda Research Center in California is using virtual reality to aid in diagnosinga treatment for Parkinson's disease. By monitoring the nervous tremblings, physicians can more accurately measure a body's reaction to the chemical treatments. Virtual reality and volumetric rendering, or superimposing the various slices of a CAT scan on top of one another, can provide a more realistic three-dimensional image of the patient. This image could only previously be viewed mentally. Johns Hopkins Medical Center is one of many institutions that have been using this new technology. Virtual reality applications are also being used to develop better anti-cancer fighting medicines. Internal medicine may also benefit from the technologies that virtual reality will assist. Research and development laboratories both in the USA and in Japan are currently working on technologies to combine the use of telerobotics and nanotechnology in an effort to create new tele-operated microrobots that can swim through the bloodstream, repairing the body from within. Just imagine, the tales that television programmes such as Star Trek -- The Next Generation, and movies such as The LawnMower MAN and Fantastic Voyage, have told may soon become fact.

New virtual laser technology may one day assist surgeons

Theories of molecular and atomic manipulations that were virtually impossible to conceptualize 20 years ago are now being tested. Using special virtual reality software developed at the University of North Carolina, molecular "docking" techniques are attempted by researchers, scientists and chemists to determine chemical bonding properties. In this way, scientists can develop new molecular entities by seeing and feeling whether combinations of molecules will bond together. The simulated molecular forces are translated into physical forces that allow the operator to "feel" attraction or repulsion. "The task of searching through the universe of possibilities for a fit has a high degree of difficulty, and a high payoff -- one of those possibilities in a haystack might encode the shape of a cure for carcinoma"[1]. Data received from the testing of new virtual laser technology may one day assist surgeons in planning out incisions, and inserting drill holes for biopsies. This new technology can also be used to determine the best method of treating cancerous tissue without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. "The pharmaceutical industry has substantial use for haptic displays. Besides drug-enzyme docking, one can imagine the applications in DNA intercalators [computerized efforts to map the human gene code], in protein design, and in the studies of protein folding, and packing"[2]. Virtual molecular docking models can also be used to develop new forms of pharmaceuticals in an effort to combat and disable disease-causing agents such as the large enzyme which contributes to cancer, and thus prevent healthy molecules from becoming damaged.

Engineering potential is another area where virtual reality applications have already been put to use. The Boeing Company, and Sun Microsystems, Inc. have invested in the Human Interface Technology Lab in Seattle as well as their own internal programs in an effort to link disparately located engineers via a computer network which would allow them to work on the same design in a three-dimensional space. Engineers within this network could walk round the computer-generated design viewing the work from any angle. Using data gloves and goggles, the engineers could make comments that the others could see and hear on their own headsets wherever they are. Designers at NorthCorp and Simgraphics, under contract with the Air Force, are currently using virtual reality to redesign the F-18 fighter, and, as with Boeing, all aspects of the aircraft's design can be viewed from all angles from the flaps, to air intake, to landing gear. These virtual aircraft can also be flown to provide pilots with appropriate training of the aircraft's capabilities, and to provide designers with knowledge of the aircraft's abilities to handle wind shear and other forms of stress.

The V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was one of the first virtual models developed by Boeing; the VS-X a later model. Because assessing maintenance requirements for aircrafts and their systems is difficult, virtual model development meant that engineers could work with the designers and provide feedback, during rather than after, the design phase. According to Miroslav Benda, a senior manager of technology programmes at Boeing, "for precise definition, and detailed design work, two-dimensional work is still preferable". Should the goggles worn be placed out of synchronization with the system, the virtual data acquired may not be accurate.

Faultless finishes! That is what Boeing is hoping to resolve with the use of virtual reality. As each section of an aircraft is completed, engineers and designers can perform consistency checks on a virtual image of the section. Short-term payoffs are also envisioned for the manufacturing process. A worker wearing a unique monocular, or binocular, retinal display unit would be able to review a connector assembly and see exactly where specific wires are to be placed. Reflection Technologies' retinal display unit assembles an image line by line on the retina starting with a single column of 280 tiny light-emitting diodes. A continuous motion mirror assembles one column at a time, projects the image, and moves on to the next column. The completed image appears to float in space about two feet in front of the user. The advantage that the retinal display has over the normal head-mounted displays and goggles is that the user's normal vision is not blocked. A user can still see through the retinal display image. Boeing hopes to have a working version of this model by the end of 1992.

A disadvantage to the commercial aircraft industry and, ultimately, to the travel industry, is that as hardware and software costs continue to decline, virtual reality will find a place in everyone's homes. Computer-human interfaces, televisions and virtual reality simulations may make travel as we currently know it obsolete. Why pay the cost of an airline ticket when a virtual reality system in your own home can take you anywhere you want to go, experience computer-synthesized fantasies that were created from real places, or created from imaginary ones? Virtual travel would become the safest, easiest form of travel. You could see, touch, smell and possibly even taste your new reality. NASA-Ames Aerospace Human Factors Research division has developed a system that will allow the user to "smell" their new environment. As the technology develops, our sense of perception will also be altered to simulate the sensation of taste.

NASA and Virtual Reality

NASA-Ames Aerospace Human Factors Research Division has a more practical goal for virtual reality instead of virtual tourism. NASA began researching virtual realities about a decade ago. Testing fuel-flow simulators to measure fuel usage for the space shuttle is where it began. Now, NASA has by far some of the most sophisticated equipment available for creating simulations. The research being conducted by NASA will eventually help in our future exploration of the new frontier. Still, NASA will continue to create flight simulations. Planning manned and unmanned missions, NASA could Survey potential landing sites, and exploration paths. The data collected could then be fed into the virtual reality engine to simulate the planetary environment. Simulating test missions can save untold amounts of money or lives. NASA has already collected considerable amounts of data from all of the stellar and lunar missions that have taken place over the decades, but the only problem is that the tape recorders required to read the data are now so obsolete that it would cost about $500,000 to process the tapes, or about $250 million for new mapping missions. Perhaps the idea of virtual tourism will boost public and government support to provide NASA with additional funding. Simulation of planetary environments is not the only item on the minds of NASA scientists. Seeing a planetary environment is one thing, but to hear and smell it is something entirely different. Elizabeth Weavel and Scott Fisher, two researchers at NASA, have been working on an innovative virtual three-dimension display known as virtual acoustics. When listening to sounds, our minds can generally tell from which direction the sound came, but in a virtual environment this too must be simulated. Even if we could not see our simulated environment, we could at least "hear" it. Virtual reality is not limited to planetary simulations, it can also be used to train astronauts as well.

Simulated War and Telerobotics

Like NASA, the armed forces have also been investing in simulations for decades, and now, plans have been made for an additional $500 million to be spent on virtual reality systems over the next four years. The Institute of Defense in Arlington, Virginia has been training soldiers in virtual reality tanks in a virtual Persian Gulf. For the soldiers, the feeling is that they are really there in Iraq. Soldiers are trained using the same manoeuvers that were used during the 1973 Easting in the Persian Gulf. The illusion is designed to train the soldiers, heighten their skills, and improve their battlefield techniques. In this era of shrinking budgets, where government spending needs to be allocated towards other more critical issues such as health care and education, simulations will be playing a more major role in military training now than ever before. An advantage of simulation training is that, in terms of raw cost, it is inexpensive when compared with the $500 spent to pay for a single hammer, or the $50 spent to pay for a plastic cap that covers a chair leg, not to mention the lives that can be saved, and the equipment that will no longer continually have to be destroyed.

Military use of simulations is nearly entering the final stage of technological development: telerobotics. Computer-guided smart missiles, helmet-mounted displays used by Apache helicopter pilots to guide machine-gun cannons, mobile telerobotic machine-gun batteries operated miles away from the front lines are the wave of the future. Robotic tanks and fighter jets are also under development, all in an effort to safeguard our future. The loss of a soldier's life during battle will become almost unheard of. But, by making war safer for our people, are we also making it "clean"? Who will see the horrors of war when telerobots fight it? Will artificial intelligence research enable the robots to "feel" pain? I am reminded of a classic Star Trek episode where two cities had been battling for nearly 200 years. The only difference between their war and others was that the battles were computer simulated. As territories were destroyed, the inhabitants of those territories reported to a "termination" chamber to be vapourized. If either city refused, a "real" war would take place. The true horror was that the simulation had become such an integral part of everyday life that nobody questioned reporting to a termination chamber to be executed. The horrors of war are what drive people towards peace. If we eliminate the horror, war becomes just another business that will try to reach optimal efficiency. Optimal efficiency is the goal of every business, especially with the entertainment industry.


Your field of vision changes every time you move your head. You can hear your opponent when he speaks to you. Weapons fire, you run for cover while hearing something moving above you. When you look up, there in front of your very eyes is a prehistoric bird. The vision is something out of a science fiction novel, but it is real and it is one of the new forms of entertainment in Ottawa, Canada using virtual reality. The three to four-minute "Dactyle Nightmare" experience in Ottawa costs $8, roughly about the cost of a movie ticket. If the queues for this experience are any indication (the queues usually form before the mall even opens) of the potential, the $175,000 system will pay for itself very shortly. Virtual reality could very well transform the nature of entertainment. Hollywood has already fallen in love with the newest technology and is planning to produce a new movie that boasts virtual actors. The V-Actors as they are called were trademarked by Simgraphics. Iwerks Entertainment and Sutherland Corporation have already developed a virtual movie called Virtual Adventure and planned to demonstrate it in the autumn of 1993, with a 1994 release if all went well. Tim Disney and various partners have invested heavily into a Chicago-based company known as Virtual Worlds Entertainment Inc. Video games giant, Sega Enterprises Ltd, has been considering opening a virtual reality games park in Japan due in part to the overwhelming support of the government.

"Cinetropolis" are movie, games and theme parks all wrapped up in a nice clean package. The success of the Camp Snoopy theme park in Bloomington, Minnesota's super mall has prompted investors and developers of virtual software into planning the creation of hundreds of these theme parks all over the country. The plan is that a Cinetropolis could provide jobs, revenue for the city once tourists come, and can fit on any street of any city, which is a crucial selling point in many overcrowded countries. In Salt Lake City, Utah, one cinetropolis under development estimates ticket costs anywhere from $3-5 for restaurants, dance clubs, and general attractions, and $15 for an all-inclusive ticket. Still, there are those like Fits-Edwards Otis, a vice-president of sales at Omni Films in Sarasota, Florida, who feel the cinetropolis is nothing unique. Despite flashy technology, the final product is what will make or break the future of cinetropolis. Video games developers have begun creating more and more powerful virtual reality games. Once the cost issue of a virtual reality game decreases to about $3-10, more and more developers will jump on the bandwagon. The video game industry will boom once again.

The only negative side to all of this is that people's expectation's are very high. Developers, despite their advances, are not capable of supplying the public with what they expect.

New laws will be enacted to protect the user

The television and advertising simulations may not be as all-encompassing as these of their cinetropolis counterparts, but they have been working on milder simulations for over a decade. The latest addition is a new Saturday morning children's programme which was scheduled to go on the air on 1 May, 1993, called The Crash Dummies. The entire show is a computer generated simulation of the auto industry's "crash dummies". Advertisers are currently incorporating a combination of computer-generated simulations and video photography to create the kinds of images they wish to portray, and to cut overhead costs such as studio time, hiring actors, photographers, etc. There have even been commercials that were entirely generated on, computer: Lifesaver Holes, Juice Box Recycling, and the innovative Listerine commercials, to name a few. Perhaps, as our technology advances, and highly immersible virtual reality equipment becomes readily available, we may be able to interact directly with the broadcasts we are watching. The only question now is whether or not advertisers will use this new technology to find a way of manipulating us into purchasing the products advertised. Will there be a need to broadcast a warning during the commercial informing us that the simulation we are experiencing is only a simulation and that there is no undue influence being brought to bear on the user to purchase the product? This sounds awfully close to the Surgeons General's warning on cigarette packs. Perhaps new laws will be enacted to protect the user from being "influenced" through our interface with the television.

Imagine what education would be like if you were to bring your students to the Battle of Gettysburg, Custer's last stand, or maybe on board the Monitor or the Merimack during the Battle of the Ironclads. Education would become big business. Virtual reality vendors would be at the doors of schools selling new products to provide simulations for every aspect of education. Virtual reality would allow students to travel to another time, and experience adventures similar to those found in H.G. Wells's Time Machine. Eventually, as human and computer interfaces increase, the classroom environment as we know it will disappear.

In the United Kingdom, virtual reality has already been put into the classroom at the West Denton School in Newcastle upon Tyne. Dimension International, the Department of Employment, and various community partners helped fund and supply the hardware and software required to bring the L100,000 project to fruition. The virtual reality toolkit provided in the software introduces students to design, art, physics and computer science. A visualizer program also allows the students to enjoy the experiences o travelling to a foreign country, including making reservations, learning the local tongue, and asking for directions. The business of drivers' education will benefit from virtual reality by providing more realistic simulations of the hazards drivers can encounter. During my research, I have realized that the current drivers' education provided during high school and at drivers' education businesses do not provide a thorough education. Perhaps these simulations will prepare drivers of all ages for what lies ahead. Perhaps virtual reality in education will convince students to stay in school.

The legal profession has been using virtual reality simulations more and more frequently to support legal arguments in court and in pretrial settlements. According to many professionals, now that costs are down anywhere from $100 to $100,000, crime problems such as how a burglary suspect entered a house can be traced and analysed. Simulations can be a powerful way of presenting a case and can sway a jury into believing one scenario over another. Whenever simulations are used, judges warn the jury that what they will be witnessing is one programmer's interpretation of the evidence provided. High-profile crimes are the ones currently using virtual reality simulations. The American Bar Association used simulations in their mock trials of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert E Kennedy, and Dr Martin Luther King.

The architect's highly design-intensive business, in which changes to plans or models mean painstaking redrawing and model rebuilding, will receive a huge boost from virtual reality. Working under the assumption that changes to a simulated structure are easier to deal with, companies from Hewlett-Packard to the University of North Carolina, to the city of Berlin, Germany, have commenced projects in which the flat architectural designs are converted into three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) models. The new equipment developed by VPL Research is being used to develop a new European office complex and in Berlin it is being used to design a new subway system which will link the east and west of the unified city.

Matsushita Electric Works of Japan began using virtual reality simulations to provide prospective home buyers and remodellers with the opportunity to walk through a virtual kitchen. The system allowed the users to rearrange the kitchen model to their liking based on dimensions provided to the salesman. Customers can not only walk around their new kitchen, they can also operate it as if it were real. Water taps turn on, the data glove sensors provide the sensations of hot and cold running water. According to Junji Nomura, a senior staff researcher at Matsushita Electric Works, "we want to be able to create a virtual kitchen within 30 minutes. Then, we can ship the order to the factory and the customer will have the custom-built kitchen within two weeks".

Walkthrough is a system developed at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill which incorporates the techniques of precomputation, and refinement. Users are able to explore virtual representations of the designs created with AutoCad while wearing a head-mounted display and walking on the full motion platform connected to the computer. The system is designed to review the AutoCad files, and, using precomputation, renders an image based on the user's actions. As the user turns, the system, registering the change in direction recalculates the direction of movement, and renders a new image of the next room or hallway based on the designs. Using joysticks, the user also has the capability of moving furniture and other objects within the image.

Current CAD systems still only provide two-dimensional views

When an architect is commissioned to design a new building or structure, a -majority of his or her time is spent visualizing the completed design, determining the spacial constraints, the length of walkways, lighting, shapes, and sizes. Current CAD systems still only provide two-dimensional views of the designs. Scale is based on the limitations of the software. In the virtual world, not only is architectural construction possible but every aspect can be thoroughly reviewed to the client's and designer's satisfaction. The building's size and shape could be altered to the client's satisfaction.

Communication within an artificial reality laboratory known as Videoplace began in 1970 at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Vidoeplace was a kind of teleconferencing environment. To Myron Krueger, the man responsible for moving the laboratory to Connecticut, Videoplace was a conceptual environment whereby people in different locations could be united by a common visual medium, and experience common stimuli, by linking users into a common network, and allowing them to share information. Videoplace was designed to augment the capabilities of the telephone and teleconferencing by introducing vision, physical dimension and a sense of touch. Virtual teleconferencing would almost eliminate the need to travel to accommodate potential clients or partners. By entering the network, all parties involved could actively participate, topics could be discussed and agreed on without ever leaving your own office, or perhaps without leaving home when the technology has advanced further. Eventually, a global world network could be established linking various subnetworks of host computers. William Gibson's vision of a world network does not seem so far away. Once the global network is established, electronic mail messaging to anyone around the world would be instantaneous. Researchers would be able to gain access to a myriad of information through the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL).

The WELL is a computer conferencing system with a conscience. Thousands of disembodied souls drift through the WELL carrying messages and passages to anyone who is willing to listen. Topics broadcast across the WELL range from poems to sonnets, to the Grateful Dead, to even virtual reality and the media. No network is without its critics and WELL is no exception. There is even a truth squad which is dedicated to virtual reality, that reviews journalists' articles on the subject, and voices its opinions when journalists do not offer proper reverence -- as was the case with the Washington Post when they referred to virtual reality as "electronic LSD". Another global network under development is the Human Interface Technology Link (HITL), which was founded by Dr Thomas Furness III. Companies could gain access to the HITL by donating hardware and funding.

The automobile industry will be one of the major developers of virtual reality because of the high costs of prototype research and development and also to keep themselves competitive with foreign auto manufacturers. To remain competitive, the motor industry has been using virtual reality systems to develop and test full-scale prototypes of future models. The use of simulations is thought to decrease the production schedule from years to months and provide substantial savings in cost. Mercedez-Benz has already begun a project to study viewer perception of depth when preparing the building of a virtual reality car interior.

Tyre manufacturers in Europe have already begun using virtual reality software to aid in the design and development of more durable, puncture resistant tyres that can also handle poor weather conditions more efficiently. With the economy still lagging way behind, developers need to make the best use of the technology at hand.

Financial applications can also make use of virtual reality by converting the mass markets of information into a three-dimensional form which could assist traders in spotting trends at the earliest possible stage. The financial services industry is by far the largest private customer of information technology and services. Since information has structure, it would be best to visualize that structure so as to manage it more effectively. Using virtual reality, future brokers could travel through cyberspace reviewing the landscape of data before making vital large financial transactions. Virtual reality systems would be able to provide "what-if" situations such as how a portfolio might perform under certain conditions better than most conventional analytical software currently in use. An argument against the use of virtual reality in the financial services comes from Robert Proctor, a lecturer in human-computer relations at Edinburgh University. He feels that there are more powerful graphic ways of representing the data than using the real-world simulations that virtual reality provides. Figures 1 and 2 provide illustrations of possible virtual reality systems which could be used in the future. (Figures 1 and 2 omitted) Currently, financial companies within the United States are investing in the use of virtual reality. Institutions in the United Kingdom are still a little wary of investing huge sums of money.

Psychotherapists can also benefit from the simulations that virtual reality has to offer. The system could be used to help treat the mentally ill by allowing them to act out their traumas in a relatively risk-free environment. It would enable the physically disabled to act out their fantasies in virtual bodies accomplishing whatever they choose. They would be able to enjoy the sensations of playing baseball, the adulations of being the star quarterback who has just won the superbowl, or to experience the joys of falling in love. The drawback is that a severely psychologically or physically handicapped person may eventually elect to spend the barest amount of time in the real world so as to enjoy the pleasures the virtual world has to offer. The clinicians in charge of these patients must weigh the consequences of, on the one hand, allowing the escapism to continue to a point where the patient no longer wishes to remain in the real world or, on the other, denying the patient access to a world that could alleviate his/her suffering. Regardless of the choice, people in general must consider the ethical issues involved.

Considering ethical issues does not only apply to the handicapped. Throughout their lives, people will experience bouts of depression, anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, and phobias. Interfacing into a virtual world where such things are no longer possible can become more desirable than the real world. At some juncture, we must draw the line between reality and fantasy.


1. Rheingold, H., Virtual Reality, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1991.

2. Biocca, F., "Symposium: Virtual Reality: A Communication Perspective", Journal of Communication, Vol. 42 No. 4, Autumn 1992.

Further Readings

Edwards, L., "Virtual Reality Pushes beyond Entertainment Field", San Diego Business Journal, 8 February 1993.

Technological Horizons in Education, October 1992.


Fake Space Labs Inc., 4085 Campbell Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Osmundsen, J.A., IBM Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights.

Sense8 Corporation, 1001 Bridgeway, #477, Sauselito, CA 94965.

Virtual Reality Inc., 485 Washington Avenue, Pleasantville, NY 10570.

Virtual Reality Labs Inc., 2341 Ganador C., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

VPL Research, Palo Alto, CA 415-988-2550.

Himanshu Patel is a Systems Analyst for a major insurance corporation in Hartford, Connecticut, USA; and Richard Cardinali is Assistant Dean at the School of Business, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut, USA.

Copyright MCB University Press Limited 1994

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