Sociological Factors and Multi-user Environments

by James Blanchard and Kim McGoff


CyberSpace and virtual environments (Immersive to the users or viewers) offer something that tradition display systems do not in presenting information. The interaction of the viewer with the information. This can lead to a number of interesting applications of the technology. In this article, a few of them are presented to give the reader a feel of the breadth of uses that emerging technologies like virtual environments may support.

In medicine, a number of research projects are equipping doctors and students with head-mounted displays, tactile feedback, audio and motion sensing systems to allow them to operate on synthetic or computer-generated models. These models are visual representations of the human body, driven to react in a similar manner through a knowledge-based system.

Physical layout of the environment is much like that of the operating room, only there are no surgical instruments, and no patients. Doctors assisting and those observing are not even required to be in the same physical location.

In engineering, aerodynamics problems come to life as the aeronautical engineer can now ride the current of the flows as they pass over the airfoil, pausing at any time to look around and explore the numbers that are generated and displayed for each location that the viewer travels across. The flows are coded in such a way that the model is moving in space, three-dimensional, and the time of the flows is represented by the viewers eye-point moving through the flows. Complex information and relationships now become evident and explorable, all without a wind tunnel.

In business, the use of conferencing systems that allow you attend a meeting without leaving the office are just around the corner. Plugging into the computer on your desk, dialing a phone or simply putting on a helmet with headphones can transform your dingy basement office in to the sixtieth floor of the world trade center conference rooms, complete with a paperless information kit in front of you that you should have read yesterday. Interaction of your body gestures is transformed in to those of a "CyberTron" in the display of others attending the meeting. Everyone comes together in CyberSpace, rather than the conference room in a physical location.

In aviation, the use of synthetic vision and virtual environments is also going to change the way pilots and Air Traffic Controllers interact. Imagine putting on a set of glasses and being able to see through the clouds. Picking up a set of binoculars and having all the information you need about the target in the sights. These types of use of the virtual environments will aid in training and exploring areas of the aviation field that have been too costly or dangerous to explore.

One of the key features of the four applications described briefly above is that the users in the systems are interacting with each other, in a location that is physically non-existent. They themselves do not move location, and they go to a place that is what they make it to be. Each others actions have an effect on the others world, and that's the major dimension of CyberSpace and Virtual Environments that are called Immersive.

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Human Interface Technology Laboratory