There is more to virtual reality (VR) than games and science projects. In the past years, it has become a business tool in order to enhance productivity, reduce industrial costs, and increase the customer's satisfaction. This evolution has caught the attention of the Silicon Graphics experts. As a result, the company has taken up the idea to promote the adoption of virtual reality technology in a broader commercial range. In no time, the Silicon Graphics Virtual Reality Initiative has seen the light.
The new masterplan includes the deployment of four major tools. The first one involves the foundation of an international VR Experts Group, in which renowned researchers take part, as well as VR hardware and software vendors, analysts, telecommunications providers, and VR users in industrial organizations. This advisory council of specialists will tackle all current theoretical and technical issues related to VR. The first meeting took place in Orlando, at this year's edition of SIGGRAPH, the well known international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques.
One of the main goals of the VR Experts Group is to overcome the existing barriers to VR implementation. The VR community has to co-operate to converge on standards of interaction. For the moment, each application indeed uses a different method to navigate through the virtual environment. Future growth also depends on both the availability of off-the-shelf software and the awareness of business benefits at the executive level. These issues constituted an important topic for the VR partners, who attended the inaugural meeting in July.
Among the Orlando participants were Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira of Iowa State University, and people from Boston Dynamics Inc., ElectroHome Ltd., Fakespace Inc., NASA Ames Research Center, and SensAble Technologies Inc. They will gather three times a year. The next meeting will be organized in November. President of Boston Dynamics Inc. and former MIT Professor, Marc Raibert, stressed the importance of the VR Initiative for the general acceptance of this technology. In medicine, for instance, VR applications completely change the way in which surgeons learn and train, as well as how their skills are measured.
At present, Silicon Graphics invests about $15 million in personnel, facilities and equipment. The second tool in the masterplan therefore includes a VR partner-funding programme through which the company's virtual reality hardware, software and research partners will be provided with technical and marketing support. The remaining tools relate to the promotion of both the educational programmes and resources, and the worldwide available Silicon Graphics RealityCenter solutions. At SIGGRAPH '98, Fakespace and Trimension already demonstrated a few amazing and professional virtual reality applications with the assistance of Silicon Graphics equipment.