Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) – Immersive Online Experiences
As technology continues to advance, it becomes more deeply ingrained in our lives. We surround ourselves with numerous devices and gadgets, using increasingly new and technologically sophisticated solutions. We constantly invest in research and development, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with technical achievements. In fact, we’ve come so far that the line between reality and the virtual world is beginning to blur – as exemplified by the use of VR, AR, and MR technologies.
AR, or Augmented Reality: What Is It?
One example of our reality becoming more immersed in the digital world is so-called augmented reality. Often referred to as AR (from the English “augmented reality”), it involves overlaying virtual objects onto real-world images. Its origins date back to 1968 when, at the University of Utah, Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull laid the groundwork for an augmented reality system. In the following years, AR was primarily used by the military and NASA before finally reaching a broader consumer audience.
In most cases, augmented reality utilizes a smartphone screen and camera to display digital objects in the real world. Its applications can be found, for example, in product catalogs, allowing users to preview how a piece of furniture or item would look in their surroundings. However, that’s not all. AR has also been implemented in Google Glass, providing users with additional information overlaid on the world they observe. Furthermore, augmented reality has been employed in entertainment, as evidenced by games such as Pokémon GO, which take full advantage of the technology.
What Sets Augmented Reality Apart?
One of the unquestionable advantages of AR technology is its ease of use. Regardless of how familiar we are with new technologies, using applications that incorporate augmented reality is incredibly simple and intuitive, whether we’re catching virtual Pokémon or taking complex measurements. Another distinguishing feature of AR is its use of geolocation. By tracking our location, it becomes possible to display digital content in specific, appropriate places with high precision. Finally, augmented reality can undergo continuous changes, even though the surrounding world remains static.
VR – Virtual Reality: What Is It?
Virtual reality, or VR (from the English “virtual reality”), is an entirely different technological solution. Instead of overlaying the digital world onto the real one, as in AR, VR takes users into an entirely new reality that exists fully within the digital realm. Virtual reality fully immerses users in a digital environment, employing the so-called “3xI” – immersion, imagination, and interaction.
Using appropriate tools and extensive databases utilized in real-time, VR users can engage in deep interactions with modern technology, leveraging not only the senses of sight and hearing but also touch and even smell in some cases.
What Are the Advantages of Using VR?
Although virtual reality requires specific tools and a simple smartphone isn’t enough, unlike AR, there are many supporters of this solution. The primary characteristic of VR is simulating an environment in such a friendly and realistic way that users can feel as if they are in the real world. There are numerous applications for such a created reality, ranging from entertainment to education, training, and marketing activities. Motion sensors, gyroscopes, computer processors, and displays used during a VR “session” allow users to receive a range of visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli, facilitating complete immersion in the fictional world and, more importantly, interaction with it.
Mixed Reality – Does It Make Sense?
The next step, or rather the outcome of creating both digital realities, is a hybrid between AR and VR. MR, or mixed reality (from the English “mixed reality”), allows users to delve into the virtual world while simultaneously utilizing the possibilities of their surrounding reality. There is nothing to prevent a user from actually reaching for a glass or bottle of water during gameplay, immersing themselves as if the virtual character they control and “are” within the mixed reality were performing the same action. It is within mixed reality that we can interact with both virtual and real objects.
Applications of AR, VR, and MR
There is no doubt that with technological advancements, more and more industries and communities may be interested in using virtual, augmented, or mixed reality. Although the entertainment industry undoubtedly plays a significant role, starting with movies and ending with thousands of games of various genres, the application of the virtual world is much broader. For example, VR and AR are gaining popularity in healthcare, facilitating training, such as allowing participants to take part in a surgical operation simulation or other complicated procedures. Virtual reality is also eagerly used by athletes who can train at home and, with the help of appropriate tools, feel as if they are participating in competitions or, for example, tackling a bike trail with a group of friends. Finally, another industry not afraid to use mixed, augmented, or virtual reality is tourism. Thanks to modern technologies, it is possible to visit places that we cannot go to independently.
Tools Needed to Use Digital Reality
To fully utilize the possibilities offered by augmented reality, virtual reality, or their mixed counterpart, it is necessary to equip oneself with appropriate goggles that allow users to enter virtual reality. The simplest option might be Google Cardboard, a project that uses a smartphone screen as a display, although it won’t provide as deep experiences as dedicated devices that require an additional computer. There is no shortage of tools on the market, such as Oculus Rift, Meta Quest, or HTC Vive, and technology giants are competing to create new goggles. Just at the end of last year, Meta acquired Luxexcel, a company producing smart glasses. One thing is certain – in the future, we will undoubtedly see an influx of new devices that will facilitate seamless entry into the virtual world. The only question remains whether we will be open enough to take advantage of such possibilities.