Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality – These technologies are all set to lessen the gap between the physical space and the digital one. The virtual and the real worlds are coming closer, offering incredible user experiences as never before. Virtual Reality (VR) has been the ‘big thing’ and it continues to amaze user; Augmented Reality (AR), like the ‘next big thing’, adds virtual experience to your real-world and has carved a niche for itself; And, Mixed Reality (MR) offers the best of both worlds. Innovation and technology always get better with time and with all three reality technologies succeeding in parallel, it is a tough call to understand and perceive which technology offers what and how.
In order to get the grip of these 3 technologies, we need to first study each one individually and then set up a comparison to know them better. As all the three are reality wonders, based on the concepts of AI and 3D, their own set of characteristics makes them popular worldwide.
Virtual Reality – Immerses Users in a fully Artificial Digital Environment
“Virtual reality is a technology that could actually allow you to connect on a real human level, soul-to-soul, regardless of where you are in the world “- Chris Milk
Introduction to Virtual Reality
With Virtual Reality, users are immersed completely in a virtual environment. Users experience freedom of movement in VR environment with magnificent sounds and special hand controllers. As one of earliest existing reality technologies, VR takes you out of the real world. With high-end devices like PC connected headsets or head mounted displays, you can enjoy a computer-generated world of imagination and sounds.
VR headset offers the real-life experience in front of your eyes, with the console powered by a computer / mobile device / other consoles. You can enjoy immersive videos (360-degree videos), computer generated VR, immersive video games etc. It is, overall, like an input and output device that offers intuitive control and deeper level immersion of digital experiences.
Brief History on VR technology
- The first references to the more modern concept of virtual reality came from science fiction.
- In the 1950 – 70s, there was early start of a VR experience through experience theatre, tele-sphere mask and other devices that helped in individual use. During the same time, there were innovation of computer screens as I/O, head mounted displays and more
- In the1970 – 90s, there were VR devices for medical, flight simulation, automobile industry design, and military training purpose
- In the 1990 – 2000s era, newer innovations like the immersive room, consumer headsets, motion simulator, virtual environment theatre was built
- From 2000 till now, there have been many innovations by tech stalwarts like Google, Sony, Valve corporation, HTC and many more
Key Features of VR Technology
- Headsets and cameras are used to block the real world and offer an augmented experience
- Offers completely immersive experience that lets you relate with an entirely different world
- More realistic experience with constant upgradation of technology
- Helps various industries like medical, military, flight simulation etc. in their training schedules etc
- Users can interact with each other during games without any outside disturbance
- VR apps can be best used with headsets like Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR etc
Popular VR Applications
- End Space VR
- Google Arts and Culture
- Within VR
- YouTube VR
- Facebook 360
- Eve Gunjack
- Minecraft Gear VR Edition
- Next VR
- Cost is the main concern, if it needs to get popular amongst the masses, the entire set of VR related hardware and software needs to be affordable
- VR apps would need high-speed internet and high-end security, both of which may not be available at all places
Augmented Reality – Overlays Virtual Objects on the Real-World Environment
“I’m excited about Augmented Reality because unlike Virtual Reality, which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently” – Tim Cook
Introduction to Augmented Reality
A step further to VR, Augmented Reality offers a wonderful experience to the users by letting them see and interact with the real world along with digital content. One of the best examples of AR in recent times is the popular game – Pokemon Go. AR can be experienced through mobile phones, headsets such as Google glass and much more. The technology overlays digital information on real-world elements, complementing the reality or environment.
You can bring AR experience to life through portable devices, smart glasses, and AR headsets. Usual AR apps use the phone’s camera to encapsulate the real scenario, virtual objects are overlaid, and the users can experience them on mobile devices. AR apps are utility-based and hence may not look as exciting as VR apps but will be totally worthwhile in application. AR is basically a direct or indirect view of a physical real-world where essentials are augmented by various sensory mechanisms like sound, video, graphics or GPS information.
Brief History of AR Technology
- AR made its debut in 1968 when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland developed the first ever AR and VR head mounted display system
- In 1974, computer artist Myron Krueger established an AR laboratory called Videoplace
- In 1990, AR was used by Boeing researcher Tom Caudell, during a live NFL game
- In 1999, a NASA spacecraft was flown using a hybrid synthetic vision system that used AR
- In 2009, the ARToolkit brought AR to web browsers
- In 2013, Google started working on the ‘Glass’ and opened it to all with many more innovations then
Key Features of AR Technology
- Trusts heavily on machine learning and computer vision rather than hardware
- Offers contextual information to the user as they need
- It needs a camera, a display and enough processing power to offer the best of experience
- AR utilizes your existing reality and adds to it utilizing a device of some sort
- Gives an indirect view of a real-life scenario in a digitally supplemented way
- It is more of a real-life overlay rather than a complete digital experience that takes you away from it
Popular AR Applications
- Snapchat’s new AR bitmojis
- Real Strike
- AR GPS Drive / Walk navigation
- AR GPS Compass Map 3D
- It may get socially rejected, time and again, since it is tough to prove its worth apart from usual entertainment and gaming.
- AR may not be able to provide the kind of rich user experience as it promises to, owing to poor performance by supporting factors like resolution, internet speed, computer vision, hardware etc.
Mixed Reality – Overlays and Anchors Virtual Objects to The Real World Along with Interaction
“Believability is a core design principle in Mixed Reality”- CrisDerr
Introduction of Mixed Reality
Mixed Reality technology (MR), also known as Extended Reality or Hybrid Reality is a seamless intersection between AR and VR and combines best of both. MR technology is all set to transform the world by offering virtual services that make the physical world talk to the digital in such a smooth manner that it all seems real.
Mixed Reality generates a user forum wherein the physical and digital elements are fused in a way that eases interaction amongst the real and virtual world. It owns characteristics of both – VR and AR but goes a step more by offering the best of both.
Brief History of MR Technology
- In the 1990s, the first immersive mixed reality system, providing enveloping sight, sound, and touch was the virtual fixtures platform developed at the U.S. Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratories
- In 1992, the Virtual Fixtures project at the U.S. Air Force demonstrated for the first time that human performance could be significantly augmented by the overview of spatially registered virtual objects overlaid on top of a person’s direct view of a real physical environment
Key Features of MR Technology
- Camera based smartphones, mobile devices and smart eyeglasses to substitute headsets
- Users can map the images to physical objects through the sensors in the wearables that map the physical world and makeup a holographic display
- Human and environment interaction through conventional reality
- Computer and environment collaboration through insight
- Thins the boundaries between the physical and virtual world
- Human and computer communication
- Cost-effective processing power facilities and vision / image recognition competencies
Popular MR Applications
- Aviation Applications
- Training engineers in Aircraft industry
- Online learning
- Reviewing designs in advance
- Assisting medical fraternity
- The real challenge lies in constructing a virtual space exactly in line with the real world so that there is an equal balance between the two, giving the users a deceptive experience that looks real
- It is a tough task to program and sequence experiences so that the basic goal of offering sensory trick is fulfilled
- It is a hurdle to figure out what exactly the mixed reality application needs to achieve
Key takeaways and a Comparative Analysis of the 3 Reality Technologies – VR, AR and MR
Key takeaways about Virtual Reality (VR)
- VR isn’t the real world but instead a simulation that draws the user into the virtual reality
- Digital environments that close the real world
- A complete artificial environment
- Full immersion in the virtual environment
- Gives freedom of movement in the digital atmosphere with sound effects
- Superior hand controllers can be applied for an enhanced experience
- For e.g. – VR gaming has been very popular by playing and watching sports and immersing into a virtual sports arena
Key takeaways about Augmented Reality (AR)
- AR is a part of the real world being overlapped so that you can use parts of both
- Virtual objects overlapped on a real-world environment
- Real-world heightened with digital objects
- Digital content on top of the real world
- Distinct AR handsets can be used wherein the digital content is showed on a small screen
- For e.g. – Pokemon Go where people all over the globe rush with their smartphones in search of small virtual creatures
Key takeaways about Mixed Reality (MR)
- MR uses the technology of digital world to enable it to coincide with the real world
- Virtual environment shared with real world
- Communication with both – real-world and virtual environment
- Digital content interrelates with your real world
- The user remains in the real world and digital content is appended onto it. For e.g. – Microsoft Hololens
- It is also possible that the mixed reality starts with the virtual world and the digital environment substitutes the real one but remains associated. For e.g., Windows mixed reality headsets
On a Wrapping Note, wouldn’t a Blend of all 3 be the Best?
With each of VR, AR and MR having its own set of pros and cons, characteristics and challenges, it feels tough to ascertain which reality technology would be best. Analyzing the positives of each aspect towards a fusion of all three seems to be an ideal choice for the technological world and the time to come. Looking at the speed at which there are technology upgrades, there will be a time when there will be the existence of a real technology that shall embrace the goods of VR, AR and MR – all in one. Wouldn’t that be worth waiting for!