Simulation is a very important technique used in the industry. From the beginning of digital computers, one of the main uses of them has been the execution of simulation algorithms to make predictions about the evolution of many kinds of processes. With the evolution of computer devices to interact with the user and other industrial machines, simulation acquired a different dimension where the simulator could interact with the real world substituting some part of that real world.
Simulators provide a lot of value in the field of engineering, because they let that engineers can test different solutions with a very low cost scheme. Simulators are of wide use too for training of expert technicians, pilots, and so on.
Simulation is very common tool in engineering, engineers have a lot of tools to simulate different solutions before they select one of them in order to develop or build a new device or infrastructure.
A useful simulator for training can be a very powerful tool, however, the higher the precision of the simulator is, the higher the cost of development is. This makes the market of highly precise simulators very little. They are built only for certain applications that require the use of very expensive and complex systems and any reduction of the number of fails in their manipulation produces big savings.
Picture 1 A virtual aerial tour over Madrid Barajas Airport towards Madrid City with Flightgear free Flight Simulator
This kind of simulators is a tool for risk reduction. For instance, a trained operator of a nuclear facility will reduce the probability of higher damage for the people in an accident because his response to the crisis will be faster and safer.
These simulators usually have a real interface connected to a computer that simulates the system under control. The use of virtual reality instead, would provide lower costs of development of the simulator and some advantages; because we can substitute real panels by virtual ones, and even extend the simulation to the environment similar to the real facility out of the control panel.
Virtual environments are not only useful to train people but even to test new devices. Imagine that you have modeled an industrial automated facility in a virtual environment, you can test in the traditional way a new device adding the virtual model of the device to the virtual environment but you can connect the real device to the virtual environment in the same way as an operator interact with a training simulator. In this way you can test how a new real device will improve your automated facility without stopping the production at the real facility. This technique is known too as virtual commissioning. With virtual commissioning you can test how different components of an industrial facility are working adding the real devices one by one. This technique lets you to identify possible fails of a component in a very complex system.
This kind of virtual industrial facilities are built yet. You can get products in the market to virtualize your own industrial automated facility, visualizing the behavior of the system in your computer screen in real time.
Virtual reality is a step further. The aim virtual reality is introducing you inside the virtual environment instead of seeing it through the computer screen. The benefits of this kind of technology are huge; however, this is not well developed yet. The problem is how to get that people perceive the virtual environment as the real one. Nowadays there are some devices to put our eyes inside a 3D virtual world but the experience will be improved a lot in the next years.
As usual, in a similar way as with any valuable technology, governments are not seeing all the possibilities of virtual technology as a solution for many problems of our societies. While some people are warning about a potential problem of unemployment due to the development of robotics, nobody is advancing the capability of generating employment of virtual reality.
Virtual reality is not only a matter of engineering. It is a matter of engineering the technology of support; however, the capability to create employment for many professions that do not fit the industry is huge. Virtual reality required a virtual environment, an environment that can be imagined by an artist.
This can be seen yet in the real economy. Although virtual reality is not developed, simulation techniques are acquiring a great importance in a real market: In the market of computer gaming.
The market of computer gaming is increasing year by year, producing the development of new electronic devices as graphics processors required to visualize in a fast way any kind of virtual simulation, increasing the market of high speed communications, and providing jobs for many artists related to imaging and writing of scripts. In fact, we can say that probably now, computer gaming market is the support of the development of many electronic devices required to improve virtual reality instead of traditional industry.
Most of computer games are created for young people. There is a segment that has not been touch related to adult public. In this kind of segment, the professions that could create jobs would be very different. Imagine a recreation of a play by Shakespeare in a virtual world where you can take Hamlet’s role. It would require knowledge of literature and history provided by several bachelors in English literature and history.
If you do not think that there would be a demand of some kind of leisure, you only need to see how movie writers have imagine the way as adult people of Star Trek waste their leisure time.
If really the industry is making more automated every day reducing the number of people working at the facilities, we should look at the possibilities that more leisure time and new technologies can provide for the employment of the future.
The way to find this future will require that governments support the entrepreneurs in the development and exploitation of new technologies instead of putting sticks in the wheels of people that are developing this kind of new technologies because they do not see leisure market as a priority for their policies. In the same way as tourism is a very important engine of the economy of countries as Spain, Italy or France, virtual reality could be in the future an important engine of the economy of any country without sun and the Mediterranean sea.