All the “Realities"

By Achin Bhowmik

“What is real?” asks Morpheus in the much-acclaimed 1999 movie, The Matrix.

Then he rhetorically repeats, “How do you define 'real'?”

Morpheus goes on to answer his own question. “If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

Well… this is a profound definition of reality. One that engineers would readily like! If we can understand the electrical signals that zip around the neurons in the cerebral cortex of our brain as we sense and perceive the world, then we may be able to artificially stimulate the neurons in someone’s brain with similar signals. This would create the illusion of seeing something, or being somewhere, that is completely different from the “actual” reality.

That, precisely, is the goal that virtual reality engineers around the world are striving to achieve.
But, wait… is it “virtual” reality or “augmented” reality? How about “mixed” reality, “merged” reality, or “extended” reality?

The short course on virtual and augmented reality at Display Week by this author made an attempt at defining these terms. Virtual reality places the user in a virtual environment, generating sensory stimuli (visual, vestibular, auditory, haptic, etc.) that provide the sensation of “presence” and “immersion.” Augmented and mixed reality place virtual objects in the real world while providing sensory cues to the user that are consistent between the physical and digital elements. Merged reality blends real-world elements within the virtual environment with consistent perceptual cues, scene understanding, and natural human interactions.

Display Week this year has a rich program on virtual and augmented reality, including a short course, a seminar, business track, papers in the symposium, and cool demos at the exhibit. Stay tuned for more updates…


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