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Executive Summary

Overview Report

Main Report


  Computer Graphics
  The Web


Bibliographic History

Review of Visualization in the Social Sciences

Virtual Reality

It has been argued by Newby (1993) that Virtual Reality (VR) is the most promising new area for human-computer interaction since the Macintosh computer graphical user interface. He argues that VR has the potential to effect changes in the integration and convergence of technology more than any other innovation in recent history. The roots of VR may be traced to the early 1960s in such diverse areas as flight simulation and art, although now it would seem that the term has become synonymous with most pseudo-3D computer presentation (Wan & Monwillians, 1996). VR is a growing feature on the Web, and appears to be the dominant visualization technology under research and development, crossing both the science and social science divide. The Web's ability to provide psuedo-3D graphics and 3D worlds has been made possible through the development of Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), allowing `plug-ins' into current Web browsers. These permit extremely elegant and powerful animations, 3D environments and VR systems to be developed and displayed. As such, VR technology represents the most graphical environments within Web-based systems, and Carver (1997) sees the future of this technology as very promising, having great potential for use by the social science research community.

The main thrust of VR research in the social sciences has occurred within the disciplines of geography, planning and psychology, principally through the marrying of GIS and urban design. The potential of visualization in the planning and design of the built environment appears to be very significant. The ability to model the built environment, and interact within it over the Web, represents a paradigm shift within the planning and design process, one which helps to communicate ideas and developments to the public at large [26].

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