What are the differences between virtual reality & traditional simulation?

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What are the differences between virtual reality & traditional simulation?
Goggles are a standard piece of equipment in virtual reality systems. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Computer simulation is developed from real-life simulation. Simulation is simply a recreated event, or an imagined event that hasn’t happened. Using computers to simulate events made the process cheaper and more presentable. Rather than creating a scene with actors and scenery to emulate an event, computer simulation creates a location that can easily be manipulated or reworked to account for different viewing angles or alternative scenarios. Virtual reality lets the viewer step into a simulation and manipulate objects directly, rather than view the scenario as though it were a film.

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Computer simulation

Simulation operated by computers has applications in many fields including entertainment, crime detection and medicine. Its usefulness depends on the source data entered and its authority as a predictive tool is only as good as the model set up within the simulation. For example, a pressure group determined to “prove” a point to advance their beliefs might enter a scenario that shows the future in a manner that would frighten the public and legislators into bending to the pressure groups wishes. The “rendering” or graphics content that displays the simulation has greater impact than a series of slides and tables.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality places the user into the simulation. This aim requires a range of tools, primarily gloves and goggles, to link the user into the program. A virtual reality operator uses gloves to feed hand gestures into the computer. Therefore, gloves replace the traditional computer keyboard and mouse as input devices. The goggles replace the screen of a computer and become the output device of the computer. Goggles perform better than simple glasses, because they can also project peripheral vision. Some virtual reality environments try to extend the sensation of being inside the environment by placing the user on a treadmill to let them simulate walking through the virtual world. Heat and wind are also sometimes included in the environmental effect to make the virtual experience seem as real as possible.

Scientific applications

Simulation has a major role in medicine and product development. Car manufacturers have cut down lead times and development costs for the creation of new models by employing computer simulation techniques. Other developers of expensive goods, like planes, employ simulation in the research and design methodologies. Medicine employs simulation to make the scan of complicated cancerous growths easier to observe. Surgeons can preview a tumour, observe it from several angles and practice several scenarios to decide on the best way to operate. Virtual reality is a possible future development of research and surgery, but this would require robots to implement the movements of a remotely located researcher or surgeon. Currently it is used as a training tool for the medical profession.


The key difference between simulation and virtual reality is their potential audience. Virtual reality intends to enhance the personal involvement of operators and so will only ever develop towards applications that are operated by an individual. Simulation emulates cinematic experiences and applies those to projections of behavior implemented by a number of effects, or characters in the display of the model. The more personal interaction that is added to simulation, the more it becomes virtual reality.

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