Augmented reality and virtual reality are two of the biggest trends in technology these days. These two words are often thrown around and used interchangeably. Although they have many commonalities—especially in forms of application, these are two completely different technolog ies that have distinct characteristics.
The history of these technologies dates back to 1838 when Charles Wheatstone created his stereoscope. The product was designed to superimpose a photo over each of the user’s eyes to create a distant 3D image. Over the years, people such as Edwin Link, Ivan Sutherland, and Morton Heilig have contributed to what we now know as cutting-edge technology.
The International Data Corporation has projected that worldwide spending on both AR and VR will reach over $160 billion in 2023, which is a huge uptick from the $16.8 billion prediction for 2019. In a survey from Jabil, business and technology shareholders say that consumers will adopt first. Furthermore, about 70% of respondents believe AR and VR technologies and their devices will enter the mainstream market within the next five years.
But what exactly are augmented reality and virtual reality?
At its basic level, augmented reality is an “enhanced version” of reality. It could be the real-time use of data rendered with the analog world. It is also defined as a type of technology that enhances the user’s real-world experiences. AR is often used in tablets and smartphones.
At a high level, AR is best used for instances where users need to be present and connected in the real world. Some applications best for AR include remote collaboration, on-the-job training, remote assistance, and computer-assisted work.
A popular application of AR for entertainment purposes is Pokemon Go. In this game, you can see real-world environments through your mobile device, layered with digital images that depict the Pokemon you could capture. Snapchat is another such example, where you can use filters to either beautify your photos or send funny selfies to your friends.
For information applications, the Layar app is another popular example. This app is designed to show users all the interesting information about places they want to visit. Layar will also show users locations of restaurants, money machines, and real estate for sale if they use the AR feature.
One false assumption that people have about AR is that this technology is only applicable to headsets. The misconception comes from Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, which many experts consider as the poster child of AR. Another misconception about this technology is people expect it to look like what Jarvis does in Iron Man.
Industry experts have applauded AR due to its contributions in enhancing the workforce in various industries such as automotive, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, military, manufacturing, and oil and gas. This trend is sure to continue as one of the most, if not the most adopted technology for a time since it really delivered benefits.
Honeywell is a great example of using AR to its advantage. Since the company is dealing with an aging workforce, they opted to have their professionals use AR-powered headsets to record their work. This, in turn, would be used as training material by younger workers in a digitally assisted method.
On the other hand, virtual reality is a computer-generated technology, designed to let users interact with simulated 3D environments or an actual real-world location that was photographed and added in a VR application. People can use VR with the help of a specially made VR viewer or through applications on your mobile phone.
A VR headset consists of OLED or LCD panels designed to refract to fill your field of vision. The environment could be a 360-degree video, a game, or a virtual surface of an app’s interface. Furthermore, there are different kinds of headsets—the tethered and the standalone.
The standalone VR headsets are designed to utilize six-degrees-of-freedom motion tracking. These headsets, with the Quest 2 as an example, usually comes with external cameras or sensors, or even outward-facing cameras. These features allow your headsets to detect which direction you’re facing, and keep track of any movement you make.
On the other hand, a tethered VR headset—also known as PC VR headsets—would need you to always plug it into a powerful computer. It also utilizes external sensors or cameras that track which direction the user is facing, their position, and movement.
A popular application of VR technology is the Oculus Rift, where you wear the headset and immerse yourself in an artificially made world. Some examples of VR apps that were developed within the past few years include the Daydream View app and headset—which was unfortunately discontinued—and the Google Cardboard.
With VR, you are given high-quality immersion in artificial environments that you could only dream of going to. These locations include the top of Mt. Everest, underwater locations, or even on the surface of Mars. Google Earth and The New York Times have created their own VR apps designed to let users visit and experience virtual locations on Earth and other planets.
An example could be the Johnson & Johnson Institute, which developed its own VR software that aims to enhance the training of orthopedic surgeons and nurses. Another unlikely user of VR is Walmart, which uses the technology to develop both common and unlikely scenarios to give its associates first-hand and high-tech training experience.
We have talked about the characteristics and applications of AR and VR. Now, what exactly are their differences?
Despite similarities in device designs, AR is just meant to add digital information to reality. It projects data in the form of images or information on top of what you already see in the real world. As the name suggests, it really is just meant to augment or enhance the real world.
On the other hand, VR is designed to completely replace reality which is why VR devices cut you off from the physical world. It takes you somewhere that is usually not the Earth and gives you a fully immersive experience. This technology is especially enjoyable when you’re playing VR-enabled games.
Despite extremely high costs of development, industry experts are expecting these technologies to expand application within the next three to five years. Are we close to mass production? Not quite, but it would get there eventually.
For now, we are in a state of compromise with AR and VR since existing technologies and wearables fail to give users a complete, immersive, and boundless experience. Most of the systems do not have a wide field of view, have limited battery life, limited display resolution, and fail to have any 3D sensing faculties.
Currently, the biggest focus on VR is the Simultaneous Localization And Mapping technology. SLAM is designed to instantly translate real-world information into digital ones and vice-versa. This possibility is already being explored by numerous mobile app development companies. SLAM is being utilized in TESLA’s autopilot and summon, two crucial parts of the car’s technology.
Sometime in the future, experts see that AR and VR devices would feature accessible, personalized, and well-designed experiences. There is a possibility of new AR glasses with LTE capacity being developed in the near future. Who knows, this could eventually replace smartphones.
For the medical field, these technologies are also expected to be further adapted to train burgeoning surgeons and specialists in delicate topics. The techs would let them practice as much as they can without messing around with a real cadaver.
AR and VR could also be used to develop enhanced mapping systems. Google had always been vocal about its intentions to explore the VR world. Experts are predicting a combination of SLAM and floor AR—those used to present 3D maps in the existing application.
AR and VR are, for sure, powerful tools that deliver a range of experiences, from storytelling to consumer engagement, to even product visualization. Although the use of these technologies is still in its infancy, they have enormous potential. Experts are predicting breakthroughs in 2021 and beyond.
The trends still suggest an exciting time for both AR and VR technologies. Wearables such as headsets are still expected to be on the rise and become more mainstream. With further developments, these capabilities may converge more and the possibilities might come true. Experts are also predicting that in the future, AR and VR would become somewhat two sides of the same coin.
Given the volatility of the market, some companies are seen waiting. Businesses may want to think about partnering with experienced vendors if they want to conquer the current challenges in developing AR and VR devices, while also meeting the expectations and high demands of the target audience. If companies want to leverage this opportunity, they should utilize outside talent to deliver out-of-this-world products and experiences.