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Stepping into virtual reality (1st ed.)
Gutierrez M., Vexo F., Thalmann D., Springer-Verlag Telos, Santa Clara, CA, 2008. 214 pp.  Type: Book (9781848001169)
Date Reviewed: Aug 19 2008

This timely book comes from the vantage point of the EPFL-VR Lab in Lausanne, Switzerland. It concisely introduces virtual reality (VR) as “the science of illusion,” and then pedagogically surveys fundamentals (computer graphics and computer animation), virtual worlds (virtual characters, virtual architecture and terrain, and intermixing of characters within architecture terrains), perception of the virtual worlds (orthogonal approaches to each of the five senses), and applications (health sciences, cultural heritage, vehicle simulation, manufacturing, and entertainment).

You could look at this book as being frighteningly similar to a respectively parallel selection of topics from ten and 20 years ago. This is an obvious but unfair observation. Yes, the topics and illustrations are curiously similar, but there are fundamental differences, because today we can process ensembles of streams of data, while back then the discussion focused on breaking into a glimpse of these applications. The problems are much deeper than we originally thought them to be, and the solutions represent the sum of countless efforts to understand why our first educated guesses were wrong, naive, retrospectively simplistic, or simply bizarre. So, after you get over the shock of the similarity, you begin to see that emphasis has shifted from things that should work to things that are really starting to work.

A shortcut for enjoying this book is to read the closing “Applications” section first. Then, take some time to test your creativity by trying to conceptualize other applications that might be important to you or to others. If you have done that, then you are ready to study this book from the beginning, as the answer sheet to your examination of the imagination. To grade your exam against the current state of the art in the interdisciplinary technology nexus of VR, take the answers from “your creativity quiz,” one at a time, and sequentially walk them through the sections of this book, all the while asking yourself how you might deal with the model, software, and hardware of making your imaginary answer real (virtually).

I recommend this book as an excellent survey course textbook. It does not sell VR, but teaches it; there has been a long-felt need for just that.

Reviewer:  Chaim Scheff Review #: CR135970 (0907-0638)
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