WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY: The term "virtual reality" is often used to describe interactive software programs -- on or off the Web -- in which the user responds to visual and auditory clues as he or she navigates a three-dimensional environment on a graphics monitor. But originally, it referred to virtual environments, in which the user would be immersed in an artificial, three-dimensional, computer-generated world. This would involve not only sight and sound, but touch as well-- through so-called "haptic" devices. Touch is vital to direct and guide human movement, and the use of haptics in virtual environments simulates how objects and actions feel to the user through biofeedback processes.
VIRTUAL SURGERY: In the lab students have a chance to practice a wide variety of surgeries before facing real patients. Some simulators teach depth perception or eye-hand coordination, while others focus on techniques such as closing incisions or reconnecting two ends of a blood vessel. For minimally invasive surgery, the resident looks at a computer monitor while manipulating instruments extending into a black box. For practicing colonoscopies, the lab has a human model that can detect the type of movement that would cause pain and responds with human-like sounds. The students who train at the laboratory improve their speed, efficiency, and technique before operating on patients.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.