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Full immersion virtual reality (FIVR) is a virtual environment (VE) that perceptually surrounds the user, being almost or completely indistinguishable from the physical world, therefore increasing the sense of presence. Although it hasn’t been fully realized yet, there have been some developments in technology that have contributed to the final goal of FIVR. Head mounted displays (HMDs), haptic feedback, and motion sensing have all contributed to increase the sense of immersion in the VE. Speculations about the ultimate technological leap to a fully immersive VR involve nanotechnology, in an interface that connects the brain to a computer [1] [2] [3].

Immersion in virtual reality

Immersion is a feeling of involvement of the user in a virtual world that has been designed by experts. It is an experience that is connected to the world of virtual reality, in which the user explores and interacts with the virtual as the real world. If the experience is realistic enough, the user forgets about his real condition, identity and life, focusing on the created identity inside the virtual environment [4].

Immersion has two components, according to Jonathan Steuer: depth of information, and breadth of information. The first included things like the resolution of the display unit, the graphics quality, the effectiveness of the video and audio, etc., while the second refers to how much the human senses are stimulated. The audio and visual effects are the mostly researched area in creating good virtual environments, and are considered the main factors that can stimulate the user’s sensory organs. However, the sense of touch has been give more priority and, in the future, it is expected that the breadth of sensory information available in a virtual experience will encompass all of the human senses [4].

The element of immersion is not exclusive to how realistic a virtual environment feels, but can also be found, in different levels, when a user plays a game for example. There can be a tactical, strategic and narrative immersion [5].

Tactical immersion occurs in the moment-by-moment act of playing the game, occurring normally in fast action games. It’s analogous to the description of “being in the zone”. It’s also physical and immediate. This type of immersion is produced by simple challenges, in which the player solves them quickly. Story and the larger strategy of the game are not the main concerns of the player when immersed in the tactics for survival. Furthermore, tactical immersion is created by providing the players with a good user interface that responds rapidly, it’s intuitive, and reliable [5].

Strategic immersion is more of a cerebral involvement with the game, looking for a path to victory, or optimize a situation. When strategically immersed, the player observes, calculates, and deduces. An example of strategic immersion is when chess players concentrate on finding the correct move among several possibilities. Story is also not something that the players are interested when involved in the strategy of a game [5].

Narrative immersion functions analogous as the immersion created by books or movies. A player immerses in a story when he starts to be invested in the characters and the developments within the narrative. The player can overlook (to a certain degree) bad gameplay and strategy when immersed in the story. Narrative immersion is created by good storytelling, and the skills needed to create it are different from the ones applied to tactical and strategic immersions [5].

Full immersion VR

Full immersion VR is a virtual reality experience that perceptually surrounds the user. In this virtual environment, the users cannot distinguish what is created from what is their everyday reality, since all of the human senses would be transferred to the avatar. Their sense of presence would be increased to a level that has not been achieved with the current technology. This level of deep immersion has also been called “Full dive VR” (FDVR) [1] [2] [6]. FDVR pushes the boundary of a FIVR by going beyond headsets and haptic feedback technology into a direct connection between the user and the computer through a Brain Machine Interface (BMI). This ultimate level of FIVR is still not possible [7]. Some of the suggested required technologies to achieve FIVR are fiber optics, quantum computing, and brain interfacing. Indeed, in some fields there have been considerable advancements while in others breakthroughs are still necessary [2]. A lower level of FIVR can be achieved by using full-body motion sensors, high definition audio, and VR headsets. This leads to more immersive gameplay, for example, but it is not considered true full dive. This last one can be said to be more of a full mind immersion that full body immersion [7].

It will be possible to exactly replicate the real world and the user’s body in the virtual environment. The opportunity to improve or modify specific characteristics in the VE will also be available, even things that would be impossible in the physical world. Although physical connections between the computer and the brain are not required, there is a need to have a mode of detection and interpretation of the user’s thoughts by the computer, and a way for the computer to send sensory data directly into the nervous system. Brain-computer interfaces have existed for several years, in various experimental stages. When applied in a FDVR concept, there is the added component of virtual reality [7] [8].

From a technical standpoint, the technologies to develop a form of FDVR already exist, but not on a level that would create a cohesive, cost-effective, and feasible experience. According to Fuller, D. (2016), “a firm dedicated to working on new ways for humans and computers to interface is already hard at work engineering vibration engines and electrical impulses that can simulate touching an object. VR gloves are already a thing. Simulating smells in VR is already well underway and even has its own poster child in the form of FeelReal, a VR helmet attachment that uses hot and cool air jets, water and even odor cartridges to realistically simulate smells.“ Taste simulation is also likely to be developed, and all of these technologies working together will create an experience that is more immersive than the level in which it exists currently, but still not on the level FDVR can become [3].

There have been descriptions of two possible levels of interaction between the user and machine, in FDVR: mobile and immobile. With mobile full dive VR, the user physically moves the body and the movements are detected by external sensors similar to the current VR technology. The sensory data that is returned by the computer must go directly into the user’s brain, in order for the experience to be full dive. In Immobile full dive, the user is motionless and the experience is completely cerebral. There is no necessity for physical movement, and the computer translates the user’s thoughts with precision. This will, inevitably, bypass the user’s normal senses by sending sensorial signals directly into the brain [7].

Once true FDVR is achieved, there will be a complete dissolution of the restrictions provided by the physical world and by the specific physical body of each person. It will be possible to create a detailed, realistic digital persona in the VE, and like kids have become full digital natives, the futures generations will exist in both the physical and digital worlds [2] [8] [9].

Research and development that can lead to FIVR

Nowadays, the VR experiences are still not completely immersive. The users can identify that they are using a headset; they can feel the outside world through the skin, and know when they are not really moving. They are not completely cut off from day-to-day reality [9]. HMDs are a widely known VR implementation. They provide an ample field-of-view and an increased sense of immersion, but are far from providing the user with a truly compelling and indistinguishable experience from reality [6] [9]. The resolution and the motion of current VR experiences still need further improvements, and navigation within the virtual world is a bigger challenge [9].

There have been progress in several areas that will converge to promote the development of a complete FIVR. Brain scan techniques will allow for the detection and analysis of thought patterns; full-body VR is being tried with the Virtuix Omni, a “virtual reality rig, which features 40 capacitive sensors in its base to track your every step and move your character inside a game.” This is combined with a headset for a richer experience in the virtual world [9] [10] [11]. Another thing that needs improvement is computer processing speed, in order for a truly full immersive virtual experience to be generated [8].

While brain mapping studies allow for a greater understanding of the human nervous system, the development of alternative designs for computer chips - that are inspired by biological brains – will enhance artificial intelligence, blurring the boundary between silicon and biological systems [12] [13]. Brain-computer interfaces keep evolving, and it was possible, in a 2013 study, for humans to control other animals with thoughts alone [7] [14]. This demonstrated that human thought can be correctly interpreted by a computer and, in this case, used to control a rat’s brain. Also, the experiment was non-invasive for both the human and the rat involved in the study, using instead focused ultrasound to transmit the control signals [7].

In 2015, another experiment used an EEG device (electroencephalogram) and advanced software to detect human thought, making it possible – by placing electrodes on the head and legs of a paraplegic man – for the subject to walk for the first time in years. The signals from the patient’s brain were detected, interpreted, and sent to his legs, bypassing the damaged spinal cord. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is investing in studies to develop “a high-resolution, wide-bandwidth intracranial electrode array for recording and stimulating brain activity.” This would be a minimally invasive device that can be compared to a brain modem, and a possible step to achieve a full dive experience [7].

Two Estonian researchers founded the Virtual Neuroscience Lab to develop ways to convince the human brain that the virtual environments that users experience are real, and elicit physical responses from them [15] [16]. They have created two methodologies to prove the potential of responses among test subjects. The first one is a gradual approach, in which subjects are exposed to stimuli like flashing screens or quick images that become more immersive as the study goes on. The goal is to find the minimal amount of input that elicits a physical response. The second methodology involves a series of experiments that cannot be repeated. For example, there was a study where they used a realistic virtual fire. The subject would hold one hand over the virtual flame and report any sensation. Most reported a feeling of increased heat on the hand, but the experiment could not be replicated because once the brain realizes it has been tricked, it will not work again [15].

In 2016, IBM did an alpha test for a virtual reality MMORPG called Sword Art Online: The Beginning. The VR gear included the Oculus Rift headset, the OVRVision and Leap Motion for hand movement detection, the MS Kinect 2 for detecting body movement, and special foot sensors that eliminated the need for controllers. It also used a 3D scanner to scan the players in order to create realistic avatars. This test can be considered to be as close as one can get to total immersion with current technology. Although there are no true FDVR games yet, this test is another step in making that aspiration real [7].

Uses for FIVR

The potential use of FIVR technology are limitless. They span different fields like leisure, training, healthcare, personal well-being, engineering, design, or media [2] [17]. For example, elder people can live experiences that are not available to them anymore due to their health; experience a younger version of themselves and personalize every aspect of their avatar and the environment [2]. Tourism is another area that can potential be revolutionized, with people no longer needing to travel and spend a lot of money to explore other locations [17].

Future of FIVR

There are several speculations about the ultimate form factor that FIVR will take. Some have suggested that millions of miniaturized advanced computers could be implanted within the brain, making it possible to achieve a high level of virtual simulation. The users would feel the virtual experiences has real, since the human brain would be merged with a computer intelligence that would interact directly with the neurons through the nanobots [17] [18]. Another suggestion is the Vertabrane: a brain-computer interface that consists of a “computer system package as a replacement for one of the upper cervical vertebra in the human spine.” The Vertabrane technology would tap into all sensory and motor nerves flowing from and to the brain, and manipulate its signals in order to produce the virtual experiences [8].


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