As we continue our celebration of National Engineers Week, we explore one of the hottest new tools in the field today: Virtual Reality (VR). Our recent blog about technology on campus introduced us to VR and its use as an educational aid for a Minneapolis school. VR is, in fact, helping to advance many fields, including Medicine, Psychology, Training and Industrial Design, not to mention Engineering.
Whether you're a student or an educator, VR is likely to be a part of your future. In fact, for those considering a career in Engineering, it could offer an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an exciting and extremely promising specialty.
Want to Get Away?
Virtual Reality can transport you to a different place. With VR you can pilot an aircraft, scale a cliff, build a bridge, or perform surgery. You can travel to another planet, or through the bloodstream of a living organism.
VR is virtually real, because it uses your senses – vision, sound, touch, motion, and in some cases, even smell – to create a realistic illusion that makes you feel as if you're actually there. It's a fascinating field for engineers, because of the ingenuity involved in creating these complex set of sensations.
As the National Academy of Engineering tells us, VR really works. In their article, they cite studies showing that "people immersed in a virtual reality scene at the edge of a cliff, for instance, respond realistically—the heart rate rises and the brain resists commands to step over the edge." In another example, VR users "exhibit anxiety when asked to cause pain to a virtual character, even though the user knows it's not a real person."
How Virtual Reality Works
VR obviously requires some pretty clever programming—and great graphics—in order to create realistic virtual worlds, and make the experience interactive. The more immersive the VR device, the better the effect. The user wears an interface that communicates with the computer-generated VR environment, sending realistic, dimensional signals to the user's eyes and ears. The environment responds as users move their heads, or take other action.
Fun AND Practical
Currently many of us associate VR with gaming or sci-fi, but we should not discount its many practical applications. The realism of VR enables us to experiment or train in a safe and cost-effective environment, and to prepare for a wide variety of scenarios. Applications include:
- Psychology: for treating people with debilitating conditions – such as fear of heights, or anxieties related to socializing, public speaking, or PTSD.
- Medicine: physicians can practice surgery without any risk to a living patient
- Government: first responders and military personnel can learn to react to threatening or hostile situations
- Architecture, Product Innovation or Industrial Design: designers can see the results of their plans, testing the safety, ergonomics, functionality and feasibility of their inventions before incurring manufacturing costs.
VR and Engineering
Obviously, VR has two direct ties to Engineering: 1) employment for engineers who design VR devices and environments, and 2) assistance for engineers designing cars, aircraft or any advanced machinery. As engineers work with their projects in realistic 3D, they can identify flaws or risks in the design and make adjustments before implementation, saving both time and money.
For more on this topic, see the article from the Virtual Reality Society called "Virtual Reality in Engineering."
Your Future as a VR Engineer
Monster.com tells us, "Now's the time to get in on the ground floor of this cutting-edge sector." Recent advances in the field, along with VR's growing popularity and commercial viability has created a growing demand for skilled technicians in the field.
These two current VR job descriptions will help you get a feel for life as a VR Engineer:
The Amazon job description says, "You should be ready to create powerful VR and/or AR experiences that help connect people to products in ways that weren't possible yesterday. You will have the opportunity to shape our VR/AR offerings from a very early stage."
Job duties for this position include:
- Research and implement new paradigms for user interaction and feedback
- Collaborate with a team of world-class developers to solve problems in VR that have never been solved before
- Write a lot of highly performant and maintainable code
CyberCoder’s job description includes this appealing detail: Salary: $80,000.00 - $100,000.00/year
Qualifications for these jobs includes a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, Engineering or equivalent experience – including Unity, Lumberyard, Unreal, or other 3D game engine experience.
For more on this fascinating field, check out these additional resources: