What Is Semi-Immersive Virtual Reality? – The Technology Simplified6 min read23/02/2019
Virtual reality, also known as VR, is among the hottest topics of the recent few years. It’s hard to find a person across the U.S. who has never heard about this technology. You might have even experienced it when wearing a head-mounted display and riding along the track in a virtual open car. That was immersive VR, but, today, we will talk about semi-immersive VR.
With the rise of immersive technologies, people have got access to environments they can experience without leaving their current location. You can take a VR headset on and travel through outer space, visit a specific sight in another country, or even find yourself in an unreal environment. You can interact with virtual objects via haptic devices in a similar way as you interact with physical objects. Furthermore, all this immersion happens with no connection to the real world. However, you also can experience virtual surroundings even without head-mounted displays. What is semi-immersive VR?
Semi-immersive virtual reality refers to a specific type of VR that allows users to experience virtual three-dimensional environments while remaining connected to real-world surrounding visuals, auditory, smells, and haptics as well as keeping control over physical objects. With semi-immersive VR, you can see what’s going on around you and interact with the objects you need. However, to get immersion to be as high as possible, you should focus on a digital image.
One of the most important challenges of this technology is a level of realism provided by 3D graphics, a term also known as virtual reality depth. The more detailed the graphics is, the more immersed users feel. When it comes to the breadth of digital surroundings or a number of human senses involved in the immersion, semi-immersive virtual reality products stimulate users’ vision, hearing, and haptics, like fully-immersive VR.
How semi-immersive VR works
The basic goal of semi-immersive virtual reality is to provide users with a maximal sense of presence through special hardware and high-end software that renders a digital 3D image.
The key elements of this technology include:
- a realistic 3D virtual environment
- haptic feedback
- high-quality sound properly synchronized with a digital image
- advanced hard simulator
Semi-immersive VR systems rely on high-resolution displays, powerful computers, and cockpits, hard simulators that partially replicate design and functionality of functional real-world mechanisms.
For example, a flight simulation system can include an airplane cockpit, a set of high-resolution displays, and computer program that launches the overall simulation and transmits a digital 3D image on that displays. Another example is a Formula 1 simulator based on a true size car model with a steering wheel enabling users to drive the racing car within a virtual environment.
You may think of immersive technologies in terms of the gaming industry. However, VR solutions based on hard simulators have a much longer list of possible applications. Semi-immersive VR has been bringing significant benefits for a wide range of industries like healthcare, construction, aviation, and education.
You might have first heard about semi-immersive virtual reality in entertainment. Various simulation video games have become the most popular type of games among gamers aged 18 to 69. According to a survey published by Statista, 44% of respondents would like to experience VR in simulators compared to 38% of those who would rather use this technology for action games.
Various amusements parks offer attractions based on semi-immersive VR. For example, PortAventura World, a worldwide-known amusement park located in Tarragona, Spain, enables visitors to drive a true size F1 car model in a virtual environment generated on three high-resolution displays.
When it comes to semi-immersive virtual reality in construction, the technology can be used as a means of simulation solutions for those construction-related professions requiring significant skills. For example, this can refer to tower crane operating. These huge machines can cost $20,000-300,000, so a single operator’s mistake can lead to tremendous financial losses taking into account other expensive specialized vehicles and buildings. Furthermore, a construction area is a high-risk place for people working in it.
Developers from CM Labs created a simulator that helps future crane operators to get familiarized to machine controls as well as learn how to erect steel or other constructions in a safe environment without putting builders working in a construction area at risk. The system relies on a computer, set of high-resolution displays, which provide a digital 3D dynamic image of the construction process, and controllers that replicate real tower crane controllers. On their official website, the developers claim that the simulator they’ve created will help construction companies save up to 75% of training costs.
When it comes to semi-immersive virtual reality in education, the technology has great potential in this sector. It can students better visualize information provided by professors or mentors in colleges, institutes, or universities. Computer scientists from the Najran University, Saudi Arabia, conducted research that proved the effectiveness of semi-immersive VR for student training. Their work showed that this the use of this technology in the learning process can significantly improve engineering students’ mental rotation and spatial visualization skills.
Semi-immersive VR can be useful for the automotive industry as well. To learn how to repair cars, mechanics first need to train their skills in practice. In other words, they need cars, which need repairing, to get professional experience. Semi-immersive virtual reality can speed up the learning process. Researchers from the universities in Canada, Mexico, and Jordan conducted an experiment to estimate the effectiveness of the training process with a VR system. Their research showed that the technology helped mechanics to visualize the assembling process of auto parts, especially for details the specialists were unfamiliar with.
The aviation industry has been widely using semi-immersive virtual reality for pilot training. For example, Boeing uses hard flight simulators to train pilots and reevaluate their piloting skills. Thus, pilots can learn how to pilot various aircraft models in a safe environment without putting machines and passengers at a risk. Enabled with a set of high-resolution displays, cockpits simulate real-flight situations and allow pilots to improve their skills in a suitable way without the need for using real aircraft.
Like mixed reality, semi-immersive VR can bring significant benefits to various industries like automotive. This type of immersive technology based on advanced displays and cockpits is an effective tool mostly for entertaining and training purposes. Unlike augmented reality, semi-immersive virtual reality enables users to experience alternative environments while remaining at the same place and capable of interacting with real-life objects. These characteristics allow the technology stack to have a greater potential for other use cases besides video game simulators.