What Is a Virtual Reality Lab?

A virtual reality lab is a place where people create three-dimensional (3D) environments to use on themselves or others to obtain data. Most virtual reality lab experiments focus on immersive 3D, or 3D environments in which the person is cut off from outside reality through the use of a helmet. To control the virtual reality tests, a haptic device — a device that is activated by touch and commonly supplies force back to the user — is used, making the virtual reality more realistic. Conservation is a major goal of a virtual reality lab, because experiments involving scarce or expensive materials can be conducted without worry. Aside from supplying useful data, the user also can be taught a skill by using such virtual reality equipment.

The majority of virtual reality lab tests are done through immersive 3D. This type of 3D environment seeks to partially cut off the user from reality by placing a helmet over the user’s head. A virtual reality helmet projects a virtual reality to the user, supplying a visual experience; the helmet often supplies sound, too, to further increase the realism of virtual reality. By immersing a subject in virtual reality, it makes the experience more realistic and provides more realistic test information for those conducting the test.

To control the 3D world in a virtual reality lab test, the user is given a haptic device. The device may be a joystick, a glove or a controller; some devices may have buttons, while others are controlled via the user’s movements. Not only does this allow the user to control the immersive 3D world, but vibrations and force are pushed through the haptic device to provide a realistic tactile sensation.

By using virtual reality instead of actual reality, people are able to conserve expensive and vital materials. For example, if they want to test how people react to directly causing deforestation, a virtual reality model can be made in which the user cuts or burns down a forest. This experiment likely could not occur in actual reality, but virtual reality allows a subject to be tested without fear of wasting resources.

The main goal of a virtual reality lab is usually to collect data, but this type of lab also can be used to train a user. For example, a beginning surgeon has to watch other surgeons work to know how to perform an operation. If a virtual reality lab builds an environment in which the new surgeon can perform a similar operation, he or she will learn the surgery first-hand, without the chance of accidentally injuring or killing a patient.