Virtual reality (VR) can be defined as a new means of man-machine communication. One of its characteristics is the adaptation of displays and interaction devices to the human senses. Stereoscopic display systems give users the impression of true spatial perception of computer-generated three-dimensional images. Furthermore, the feeling of being immersed in the virtual environment is strengthened by devices like data gloves which allow natural and intuitive direct interaction .
The degree of immersion depends on more than on the characteristics of each single device. Because human cognitive processes and perception build largely upon multimodality, a proper combination of different interface components results in a flow of information on several parallel channels, and has been shown to enhance effectiveness of interaction, see e.g., [14, 16, 42, 67]. Even altering combinations of different modes or communication channels should be possible . Those papers show that simultaneously providing users with visual (graphics, images), acoustic (sound, speech), and tactile information is an important factor in enhancing human-computer interaction.
Medicine is currently taking its first steps into virtual worlds, e.g., in training and education, therapy planning or surgery assistance, see e.g., [3, 8, 73, 54]. And despite some skepticism about this new technology, the expectations are high. Virtual reality brought great benefits to industrial fields like architectural design and flight and driving simulations. But the requirements in the realm of medicine are quite different from those in traditional areas. This applies to the design or selection of interaction devices and tracking systems as well as to the development of software applications , regarding the huge amount of data to be visualized in virtual environments in medicine.
In the subsequent sections, the technique of virtual reality is defined and hardware and software components are described. After summarizing the state of the art and requirements for visualization and interaction, new methods for the medical field are presented and discussed.
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