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Virtual Reality Technologies

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Catalogue Entry – Virtual Reality Technologies DRAFT


Virtual Reality Technologies


Categorization and Tags:

Virtual Reality, VRML, X3D, Online Virtual Worlds, Driving Simulator


Virtual Reality usually refers to a simplistic, artificially created computer aided reproduction of a real world or real world like scene. Virtual reality allows a practical technology for clinical medicine, psychiatry, surgical planning and telemedicine amongst others. VR offers the creation of controlled and dynamical 3D scenes which allows the recording and measurement of behavioral response of the user. The outcome can be used for various means of assessment, for rehabilitation and for training.

Background and State-of-the-art:

Virtual reality systems can be used to address six neurorehabilitation issues: “…attention and the reduction of distraction, assessment and remediation of executive function deficits, investigation if impairments of coordinated movement, study and rehabilitation of aphasia and other severe disorders of language, task presentation for functional imaging studies of the brain, and the measurement of mental load in the operation of assistive technology” [TRE99]. VR can be employed to improve postural balance control in combination with an unfixed bicycle [SON04] and studies showed that spatial abilities trained in VR can significantly improve these in real world too. The National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa and the Toyota Driving Simulator use VR to simulate car driving in a controlled and save environment to examine the driver’s skills and abilities and determine of the user’s physical and mental condition allows him or her to drive an actual car. Virtual reality can also provide the basis for a powered wheelchair simulation. These simulators can be used to assess the accessibility of buildings upfront [GRA03] and novice users of powered wheelchairs can improve their skills without exposing themselves to dangers in the real world [HAR02].Other types of virtual reality software allow people with limited mobility like wheelchair users for example to play basketball. Online virtual worlds like Second Life [LIN13] can prevent people to get socially isolated and participate in group activities, meet other users and socialize. Second Life offers accessibility extensions in the form of screen reader compatible user interfaces, speech in- and output based interfaces and virtual guide dogs. Nevertheless, accessibility for visually impaired people is still an issue since amongst others about one third of all objects are simple named “object”. Therefore, regulations addressing this issue would decisively increase accessibility for this kind of applications. Relationships in Second Life are quite common and some of them have even been taken from virtual online ones into the real-world. Online virtual worlds offer great potential to prevent handicapped people from isolation who would not be able to meet other people due to their severe disability influencing mobility or communication skills.

From the technical point of view, virtual reality environments are represented in countless different ways using mostly proprietary frameworks and description languages even though standards would exist. Examples are VRML or its successor X3D, which were both designed to be humanly readable using XML as basis. However, they still suffer from some decisive weaknesses. There is no widespread and proven tool support like for proprietary commercial formats, (photo-)realistic environments are not possible just rather simplistic ones, due to the limited feature set, and it is also computationally intensive and therefore suffers from relatively high hardware requirements.


Disadvantages and problems highly depend on the field of application and the technology used. Virtual reality systems using stereoscopy to offer an immersive experience tend to provoke motion sickness for many users. Motion sickness occurs if a disagreement exists between the visually perceived movement and the vestibular system's sense of movement which causes nausea. Besides, virtual reality systems often lack of an adequate system to present force and motion to the user which intensifies the effect of motion sickness and also leads to a less immersive experience. Socially, not only but also virtual reality can lead to social isolation in which the user is more attached to the virtual world than the real world and neglects real world relationships. Another possible social disadvantage of virtual reality is desensitization where the user fails to predict the true consequences in the real world after spending a long period of time in the virtual world. In terms of accessibility, virtual reality applications, like Second Life [LIN13], are still lacking of an adequate description of objects as alternative to the visual representation.

Research Goals:


  • Prioritized list of issues to be addressed
  • Indicative timeline (short/middle/long term)
  • Methodological considerations (e.g. studies, guidelines, standards, prototypes, experiments, implementation, dissemination, market penetration, education)

Issues to be addressed

  • What are the opportunities for accessibility that rise from VR technologies?
  • What are the problems these opportunities might pose to accessibility?
  • Is there a need for provision for accessibility in the VR related standards?
  • Assumed that VR standards would contribute to accessibility or help people with disabilities, how could VR standards be propagated?
  • Assumed that VR in general will get increasingly popular how would this influence accessibility and how would this affect people with disabilities?
  • How could one ensure that the gap does not widen between people with disabilities and users without the need for enhanced accessibility when using VR increasingly?
  • How could persons with disabilities enjoy the VR experience without problems?
  • How could advanced VR application due to the increasing processing power of home computers contribute to the inclusion of people with disabilities?


  1. [GRA03]M. Grant, Wheelchair Simulation in Virtual Reality, Space Requirements for Wheeled Mobility, 2003
  2. [HAR02]A. Harrison and G. Derwent and A. Enticknap and F. D. Rose and E. A. Attree, The role of virtual reality technology in the assessment and training of inexperienced powered wheelchair users, Disability & Rehabilitation, 2002
  3. [LIN13]Linden Research, Inc., Second Life, 2013
  4. [SON04]Chul-Gyu Song and Jong Yun Kim and Nam Gyun Kim, A new postural balance control system for rehabilitation training based on virtual cycling, Information Technology in Biomedicine, IEEE Transactions on, 2004
  5. [TRE99]Cheryl G. Trepagnier, Virtual environments for the investigation and rehabilitation of cognitive and perceptual impairments, NeuroRehabilitation, 1999
  6. [W3D13]Web3D Consortium, X3D International Standards, 2013
  7. [W3D13a]Web3D Consortium, The Virtual Reality Modeling Language, 2013