Lentis/Virtual Reality


Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation that augments reality. It has been on the rise since the late 1960s and hasn’t fully come to fruition. Nevertheless, VR’s current advantages are being utilized in many sectors of life. For example, it is revolutionizing how doctors teach and build trust in patients, and helping police departments train officers and improve community relationships. These new developments in technology have great potential, but must be accompanied by an understanding of the society they are part of. While the future of VR is ambiguous, it’s direction has diverged from its start in entertainment and expanded into a multitude of professional and practical applications.



The medical field is founded on research and development of new technologies, which is why the utility of VR in health and medicine is high. Surgeons are able to train in realistic simulations that are low-risk. This benefits the patient as well; these simulations are a great way to educate the patient, which allows for better treatment. Another area where VR shines is in PTSD and phobia therapy. In this treatment, patients are gradually exposed to the stimuli that trigger an adverse reaction. Virtual is the keyword here, since it’s not real it alleviates a lot of stress and allows the patient to overcome the mental block. A similar approach is taken with recovering drug addicts. The subject is slowly shown stimuli that may cause a relapse, which will reveal the trigger and help them say “no” when it actually occurs. Stroke and head injury victims also benefit from VR because it allows them to practice navigating and balancing in different terrains, which increases their mobility. A virtual environment can provide a distraction for patients whom anesthesia may be dangerous in order to manage pain. Physical therapy has also integrated VR by creating precise workouts and stretches that can be analyzed [1].

A recent innovation of virtual reality in the medical field has been 3-D modeling [2]. These models are unlike any done before, they are interactive and use real people. Sandi Rodoni, a three-time patient for aneurysm surgery got to use this kind of model first hand. The model combined Sandi’s MRIs, CT scans, and angiograms to construct a 3-D representation that could be rotated and zoomed in making it completely interactive and immersive. Before her third surgery, she was able to put on a VR headset and see inside her own brain! The doctor was able to point out the inflamed blood vessel and teach her how they remedy it. The testament from Sandi, “Because I had been through this before, I thought I knew it all until I saw this,” exemplifies how useful this technology can be. It’s clear that the benefits of VR are felt in the medical industry and more advantages are still to come [3].


The issue of police brutality and bias is a key issue in current American society. Excessive use of force by police has a disproportionate impact on people of color.[4] Numerous studies have shown that both racial biases and high stress can lead to errors in shooting decisions made by police officers.[5] There is no simple fix for this problem, but there is a growing consensus that significant changes must be made in the way police are trained.[6]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which advocates against police misconduct, states that it works to promote improved police training and increased collaboration between police departments and community stakeholders.[7] When asked about the potential applications of virtual reality in police training, Jeffery Robinsin, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, explained that the technology has potential, but that its impact will depend on how it is used. He offered several key questions that must be considered: “Are these simulations going to be racially biased? How are these programs set up?”[8]

The NYPD has recently turned to virtual reality in multiple areas. It has used VR in training in order to expose officers to high-stress situations so that their actions in those scenarios can be measured. Because this training is done virtually, mistakes do not result in actual harm being done; the goal is for these mistakes to be corrected before they are made out in the real world.[9] The NYPD is also using VR for community outreach. The department’s “Options” program allows young people to enter a virtual simulation where they are presented with various scenarios, and must make choices regarding what to do in each case.[10] The scenarios are designed by the local youth, and promote emotional intelligence and deescalation. Involving the community in the design of the program was important; as the police commissioner says, “public safety is a shared responsibility, and it’s crucial that we include the voice of our city’s youth in neighborhood policing.”[11] Just as with officer training, the goal of the program is for individuals to make mistakes in the simulation and learn from them, so as to not make those mistakes in the real world, when there are real consequences. Working with the community in New York City to develop the "Options" program promises to be more effective in achieving the common goal of a safer community than a program developed without any outside input. The local residents are just as significant of stakeholders in the program's success as the NYPD is.

VirTra is a technology company developing a platform for virtual police training. They differentiate themselves from other simulation-based training by using “photo-realistic technologies” so that the virtual subjects an individual interacts with during training look like actual humans. VirTra is working to address the issue of implicit bias in police training by creating multiple similar “scenarios that are identical to each other” except that the variants include participants of different races. This way, the results can be used to “evaluate if there are bias issues affecting the use of force.” The company also provides scenarios that can be used to detect gender bias. The goal is for these biases to be identified before they result in the misuse of force in the real world.[12] Efforts like these to keep racial bias out of virtual simulations, and furthermore to attempt to detect such bias in users, are steps in the direction of addressing the concerns raised by Jeffery Robinson of the ACLU regarding how VR technologies are used in practice.

Limitations and ConcernsEdit

While there are many use cases for virtual reality, questions about the medium’s viability persist. A primary concern is that the technology simply isn’t there yet. There is currently no commonplace item that introduces haptic feedback, the mimicking of the physical sensations that people experience daily because the standard form of control is via one-handed controllers. These controllers diminish the immersion for the user and potentially limit the effectiveness of VR as a tool.[13] In a similar vein, there have been concerns over the safety of the user while immersed in virtual reality. A study has shown that fully-immersive VR leads to users having roughly the same balance as when their eyes are closed.[14] This inherently poses a risk to the user because as the immersion quality increased, the user’s balance dropped further. Falling while disturbed holds special relevance with the current generation of VR due to the highest fidelity headsets requiring a large cord to connect them to a computer with graphics capabilities. This problem, while it can be overcome, does prove to be an obstacle that the user must overcome to have a more immersive experience.[15]

Outside the realm of technical limitations, there are also issues regarding human interaction and VR. One of the most common symptoms of VR use is motion sickness which can drastically limit immersion.[16] This and other human responses to VR, such as eye strain and disorientation, do not seem to disappear as the virtual realm’s quality increases but is a result of other, unstimulated senses. This implies that should the technical aspects of VR reach a standard that can fool the user’s mind cordlessly, other factors would still need to be improved to actually provide full immersion to the user, such as stimulating other senses and refinement of the way the user interacts with the system.

The issues with human interactions with technology do not stop here, however, as Virtual Reality also brings sexism with it. Researchers Stanney et al. have found that Virtual Reality headsets, like the HTC Vive, do not build headsets that can adjust to the interpupillary distance (IPD) of women as often as men.[17] This leads to an increased likelihood of motion sickness because the headset does not fit the user, similar to how poor-fitting glasses can disorient the user. This resulted in some men’s rights advocates arguing that “It’s not VR’s fault! It’s biology!”, among other comments.[18] They argue that if the product doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit, since it can also affect males this way. Given the fact that computer scientists are only 18% female, it is more plausible that the headset was scarcely tested on female users, resulting in the unintentional bias observed with IPD adjustments.[19]


Virtual reality, like many other forms of technology, has exciting potential applications in many areas of society. This interest has expanded past the initial focus on entertainment, and now includes the areas of health and policing, among many others. However, it is important for the people developing virtual reality systems to work with and understand the people they are building these systems for. Both the positive and negative impacts of the technology on the target groups must be considered. Analysis must not stop there. As with essentially any new development, there will be non-obvious, yet significant, effects on other groups within society. It is the responsibility of those developing the new technology to pay attention to these relationships as well.

There is great opportunity for further analysis of the applications of virtual reality in many domains, such as education, research, and the military. In all of these fields, VR systems should not be developed in a vacuum. Those which are developed in collaboration with direct and indirect stakeholders, and which consider their impact on society, will likely prove more successful and should be studied.


  1. Weber, H. (2019, August 26). Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy Clinics Going Into 2020. Neuro Rehab VR. https://www.neurorehabvr.com/blog/virtual-reality-in-physical-therapy-clinics "Virtual reality in Physical Therapy"
  2. Erickson, M. (2017, July 11) Virtual reality system helps surgeons, reassures patients. Stanford Medicine. http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/07/virtual-reality-system-helps-surgeons-reassures-patients.html
  3. Ghost Productions. (2018, September 19). 10 Ways Virtual Reality in Healthcare is Transforming Medicine. Ghost Productions: Medical Animation and Virtual Reality. https://ghostproductions.com/blog/virtual-reality/vr-improves-healthcare/ "10 Ways Virtual Reality in Healthcare Is Transforming Medicine"
  4. ACLU. (n.d.). American Civil Liberties Union. Police Excessive Force. https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police/police-excessive-force
  5. Akinola, M & Mendes, W. (2011). Stress Exacerbates Shooting Errors Among Police Officers. SSRN Electronic Journal.
  6. Gutierrez, D. (2016). Why Police Training Must Be Reformed. Harvard Political Review. https://iop.harvard.edu/get-involved/harvard-political-review/why-police-training-must-be-reformed
  7. ACLU. (n.d.). American Civil Liberties Union. Police Excessive Force. https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police/police-excessive-force
  8. Kofman, A. (2016). Can virtual reality training for US police help stop officer-involved shootings? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/11/police-virtual-reality-training-stop-shootings
  9. Kanowitz, S. (2019). Virtual reality helps police train for active-shooter scenarios. GCN. https://gcn.com/articles/2019/07/24/vr-active-shooter-training.aspx
  10. NYPD. (n.d.). New York City Police Department. Options. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/services/law-enforcement/youth-programs/youth-options.page
  11. Moore, T & O’Neill, N. (2019). First-of-its-kind NYPD VR gaming system targets teens. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2019/01/22/first-of-its-kind-nypd-vr-gaming-system-targets-teens/
  12. Nichols, G. (2020). Police simulator uses real weapons, tense scenarios. ZDNet. https://www.zdnet.com/article/police-simulator-uses-real-weapons-tense-scenarios/
  13. Murray, J. H. (2020). Virtual/reality: how to tell the difference. Journal of Visual Culture, 19(1), 11–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470412920906253
  14. Menzies, R. J., Rogers, S. J., Phillips, A. M., Chiarovano, E., De Waele, C., Verstraten, F. A., & Macdougall, H. (1996, January 01). An objective measure for the visual fidelity of virtual reality and the risks of falls in a virtual environment. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10055-016-0288-6
  15. Brown, M. (2016, August 06). Tips and tricks to avoid stepping on your VR cables. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.vrheads.com/how-stop-tripping-over-your-vr-headsets-cables
  16. Chang, E., Kim, H. T., & Yoo, B. (2020). Virtual Reality Sickness: A Review of Causes and Measurements. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10447318.2020.1778351
  17. Stanney, K., Fidopiastis, C., & Foster, L. (2020, January 09). Virtual Reality Is Sexist: But It Does Not Have to Be. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2020.00004/full
  18. Harvey, D. (2018, July 09). Is Virtual Reality Sexist? Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3057012/is-virtual-reality-sexist
  19. Women in Computer Science. (2020, November 23). Retrieved from https://www.computerscience.org/resources/women-in-computer-science/