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virtual reality

  Recreation of aspects of sensory experience through the use of digital technology. Virtual reality (VR) technologies include head-mounted displays that project images directly in front of each eye, and modify the images as the head moves to create the illusion of sensory immersion in a real physical setting; systems for feeding sound to the ears; and systems for detecting movements of the user\'s hands and simulating appropriate visual effects (for a review of VR technology, see Burdea and Coiffet, 1994). The term augmented reality is used when technology adds to or enhances perception of surroundings.

Virtual and augmented realities have found applications in several areas relevant to human geography, although the technology remains largely exploratory. The concept of a virtual field course, in which some aspects of the field experience are recreated in virtual environments, has been explored in several projects (Raper, 1997). Golledge et al. (1991) have developed systems to augment the reality of visually impaired people, to help them navigate through unfamiliar spaces. Systems that display information in the peripheral vision of field workers are being adopted to enhance the effectiveness of fieldwork.

The idea of virtual geographic reality raises a host of interesting questions, and reveals our lack of understanding of how people perceive and record field experiences. No virtual reality can ever fully replace \'being there\'; the challenge is rather to find aspects of reality that can be recreated virtually, and that have value in aiding research or interpretation. (MG)

References Burdea, G. and Coiffet, P. 1994: Virtual reality technology. New York: Wiley. Golledge, R.G., Loomis, J.M., Klatzky, R.L., Flury, A. and Yang, X.L. 1991: Designing a personal guidance system to aid navigation without sight: progress on the GIS component. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems 5: 373-9 5. Raper, J. 1997: Progress towards spatial multimedia. In M. Craglia and H. Couclelis, eds, Geographic information research: bridging the Atlantic. London: Taylor and Francis, 525-43.



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