October 26, 2020
Photons Canada news

The virtual reality

By: Benoit Duinat and Eric R. Harvey, CIMMI


Image: Matteo Valoriani, Etna dev 2016-Introduction to Mixed Reality with HoloLens

The typical definition of a virtual reality (VR) environment is one in which the participating observer is fully immersed and able to interact with a fully synthetic world (1). VR therefore sits at one of the boundaries opposite to reality. The technology developed since1960s has recently undergone a dazzling evolution from the level of accessibility to efficient and inexpensive display headsets with regards to the realism of synthetic environments obtained by ever more efficient graphics processors. Thanks to advances in electronics, computing and photonics, VR has reached an all-time high in terms of an immersive experience

On the technological side, the arrival of ever more energy-efficient light-emitting LED displays enabled VR headsets to deliver an impressive density and quantity of pixels projected into each eye of the user. In addition, the LED miniaturization and that of the processing electronics means that manufacturers design helmets that are light, compact and ergonomic. They also became autonomous by the addition of optical sensors for 3D positioning in the physical environment and eye tracking for display optimization.

The applications of virtual reality affect many fields, here are a few examples produced by CIMMI, a technology transfer center specializing in digital imaging (2):


Industrial applications, VR is particularly useful in training. If the training materials are destructible, or if the environment is potentially dangerous, VR is a very attractive alternative.

A virtual reality simulator for risky interventions has been developed by the CIMMI team. This simulator is intended for training employees and industrial brigades in the handling of portable fire extinguishers and other extinguishing tools used in an industrial environment, in order to carry out an efficient and safe response. The hardware is self-contained and allows the use of a real fire extinguisher in the virtual world. The application is relevant for both beginners and experienced firefighters.


Another area that is increasingly using VR is education. The immersive experiences make it possible to get involved and make the learning concepts more interactive. These types of applications are part of what we call “serious games”. A collaboration with the chemistry department of Cégep de Sainte-Foy provided the opportunity to develop a VR application in the context of the general chemistry course. The application allows students to test their knowledge of bonds between different types of chemical compounds.

The strength of virtual reality applications is that it allows students to immerse themselves in the different chemical compounds. They can therefore visualize molecules in 3D and in motion with respect to each other. This allows them to fully understand the differences between the bonds that can exist between compounds, the different types. The traditional approach using textbooks does not help students easily grasp these concepts and is one of the great difficulties of a general chemistry course.


Virtual reality makes it possible to reconstruct vanished environments of times past. It is a fantastic tool for exploring history by immersing the user in a universe from another time.
In the Pop-Up Limoilou project, for example, CIMMI collaborated with historians, designers and musicians, to recreate the establishment and development of the Limoilou district from the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1535 until today.

The 3D environment has been generated from 2D drawings like a pop-up book. The user can move around in the pictures virtual scenes of different eras. This approach makes it possible to transmit emotions linked to certain pages of our history.


CIMMI is above all a research center that must remain at the cutting edge of the technology. Research activities inherent to virtual reality are underway, such as matching physical facilities with their virtual twins, as well as the development of gesture tracking algorithms to make the experience even more immersive and user-friendly.


(1) Paul Milgram et Fumio Kishino, A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays, IEICE Transactions on Information and Systems, December 1994 ( https://www.researchgate.net/publication/231514051_A_Taxonomy_of_Mixed_Reality_Visual_Displays).

(2) www.cimmi.ca

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