The second future of Virtual Reality in industry and medicine

Amsterdam, 10 November 97 Bob Stone, chairman of the Amsterdam Euro-VR Mini-Conference '97 on Virtual Reality in Industry and Research and representing VR Solutions/Virtual Presence Ltd, sketches the equivocal situation of the Virtual Reality Technology in terms of nasty little disillusions in the past but growing substantial hopes for the present and the future. The new Virtual Reality Technology is integrated in surprising and useful daily life applications in England. Land of hope, certainly, the glory is on the verge of awakening in different industries which have chosen the beautiful risk of Virtual Reality Technology. Surgery training is one of the prominent domains amongst others.

In the recent past, Virtual Reality seemed to have succumbed to a quiet and silent death. Many VR companies in particular were suffering from misfortunes as the UK was suffering from band wagon jumping. The ironic reality showed a enormously well distributed field of VR centres all over the country but very little was happening. The universities were desperate for applications because they had lots of precious high technology equipment but nothing to show, according to Stone.

However, 1997 is announcing itself as a year of change. Virtual Reality has a great deal to offer and efforts are finally paying off. The production of straight guide lines has triggered off a whole range of initiatives but one should take in account that companies are not prepared to buy VR based technology if they have to adopt a whole new integrated system. After all, they have commercial needs to respond to. Moreover, they simply cannot afford high technology tools that basically have nothing to do with Virtual Reality, facts they have been confronted with in the past.

Eventually, several lights are glowing on the horizon and Stone announces a bright second future for Virtual Reality. In the UK, different industrial and scientific environments are actually working with VR based technologies. Stone is quickly scanning some of the major results in the automobile and shipbuilding industry, such as the Rolls Royce Trent 800 engine production and the nuclear submarine business. One nevertheless should emphasize that VR is a horizontal technology and therefore, the decision and buying process is a long one. Demonstrations are extremely important to get any success whatsoever.

Other ways of VR implementing are situated in aircraft building; product handling; space planning in supermarkets; microscopic design of semiconductors; tourist marketing; training programs for children traffic guiding and for social staff attending to juvenile offenders. Stone points out that VR is accessible to all sorts of specialisms and has no language frontiers at all. One of the key points of real time interaction in three dimensional environments of course is surgery training.

Surgeons are offered interesting opportunities now of getting used to the surgical instruments and receiving haptic feedback thanks to Virtual Reality. Before this moment, they had to practice on sweets, fruits and chicken to get a notion of the instrument's grip. The techniques that actually are being used have been called MIST which stands for Minimally Invasive Surgery Therapy. Symbols of very simple objects record and analyse the surgeon's handlings in a VR environment. In any case, this is a spectacular breakthrough of Virtual Reality Technology in the critical medical domain.

The challenge for the VR based systems will remain the high cost of it which might inhibit sales people to actually make a buying decision. The tangible results are obvious, the chance for specialists to acquire them is still a tiny bit less. And yet, the glory is about to glimmer at the break of the new VR era. For further information on VR Solutions, please consult the Virtual Presence web site.

Leslie Versweyveld