The past two years have, for some, been a time of excitement and anticipation as the Virtual Reality headsets and games began to be produced, for others it was the Augmented Reality games and apps that have been released and already widely used. While for those not in the know it has been a time of bemusement and bewilderment as gadgets from some of our favourite sci-fi shows and films have become a reality. So what is Augmented Reality? What is Virtual Reality? Is there really any difference between the two and if so what? How are they being used and which one is likely to last?
The term ‘virtual reality’ has been in use since the 1970’s. The term then, was coined to describe an illusory or imaginative experience that allowed a person to experience another place, time or world and interact with it. Today virtual reality is catching up with the scenarios from some of our favourite films. Technological advancements and computer sciences have improved in leaps and bounds, helping to bring that which was imagined to life. Now for many the term ‘Virtual Reality’, means entering into a game by putting on a headset and feeling, believing that they are actually in this imagined world, fighting machines, seeing dinosaurs and even soon with the Walking Dead game, fighting zombies.
Like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality has been made possible by huge leaps in technological advancements. How does being able to strap on a gadget and use your arm as a keyboard instead of carrying around a laptop sound? A prototype and development for this is already underway. So, what is Augmented Reality? Augmented Reality, relies on digital devices and apps to alter our perceptions of the real world. It does not change the real world to an imaginary world as in Virtual Reality but augments it, improving on sound and colours or making a sign or a symbol interactive or a 2D figure into a 3D figure. Augmented Reality could soon mean that you need never be lost in a new city, simply by using your mobile phone or in the future, strapping on a gadget you could see images, signs and information in the scenery around you to help you orientate yourself and find your way – much like google maps but far more informative.
So the difference between the two is, in its simplest term, that one (Augmented Reality) relies on using the real world, enhancing it and making it interactive. Whilst the other (Virtual Reality) relies on creating a whole new imaginary world. Virtual Reality relies on a person using a game console, computer, mobile and most importantly a headset to separate themselves from the real world and enter an imaginary world. Whereas, Augmented Reality relies on a person using their mobile or gadgets to interact with the real world around them, gaining access to information about that which they are looking at.
For more detailed and technical information checkout Wikipedia at wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality , or
But how are they being used really? Are they only useful for the gamers, or those with a lot of technical knowledge?
Computer games have been entertaining us for years, ever since the first Arcade games, Pong in the 1970’s and Pac Man in the 1980’s. The graphics on games today have become so advanced that they are almost cinematic. Video games and cell phones have driven these new technologies forward, so that today the figures on your screen can appear to jump out of it or the image of the world in the game can surround you completely, replacing the real world.
However, that is not the only way that the Augmented and Virtual Reality technology is being used. Businesses, i.e. clothing and furniture, museums, healthcare, aviation and the armed forces are just some of the other sectors that are not only interested in but have either started to or been using these technologies. Virtual Reality has been used in a museum to take visitors back thousands of years to experience how it was back in the pre-historic era, Augmented Reality has been used to show the armed forces maps with obstacles, bridges and roads for them to navigate. Your mobile phone can now be used to download and show augmented maps on golf courses, mountains, the stars. IKEA is just another in a growing list of companies that has embraced this new technology, with a downloadable app that allows you to look through their brochure and even superimpose items into your own room to see how it might look.
A Flash in the Pan or here for the long haul
Both technologies are very different and yet very similar and are even blended in some applications to heighten the level of believability. So, which one is best and which one is here to stay?
Everyone can benefit from computer Augmented Reality, from soldiers, tourists to someone looking for the closest coffee shop. The help apps and programs for Augmented Reality are already being used by thousands. Architects and builders use it to see how a building will look when completed.
Work is already underway to develop contact lenses to replace the need for glasses or mobile phones. Police and fire departments can use it to determine exits in a building. However, some of the real winners with this technology are businesses, social media and the consumer. The Virtual Sphere is a new platform hosting media and PR campaigns. Augmented Reality will become the next generation for social media, sales and attaining interactivity with the consumer, In general as a people we have a thirst for knowledge and to have it just by looking appeals to many. To look at a building and be able to know without entering whether there are any job vacancies, to look at a sign and know whether it will lead you to restaurants, cinema’s, or sit in your car and have your route projected on its screen are all exciting and possible developments now and in the future.
The human race is a sociable race, on the whole, we like to talk, to mingle and to interact and all of that is possible even with Augmented Reality surrounding us wherever we may look. This then would imply that Virtual Reality is at a distinct disadvantage. Not so, because we also like to play games as a form of escapism, whether it is card games, board games or video games. As a form of escapism, Virtual Reality, which, allows you to become another person in another time or world excels and will only improve. It is already being used in areas of structural design, for business conferences to present high cost projects, in the entertainment industry and even being tested as an approach by doctors to treat mental illnesses. As businesses catch on and become more familiar with the technology the uses of virtual reality are seemingly limitless. Imagine yourself learning to fly, test driving a car, walking through the rain forest all of these and more will be possible in time with virtual reality.
Both of these technologies are here to stay. Neither is better than the other, their similarities and their differences are what makes them so unique and so appealing. Naturally, there are negative aspects to both, the cost of Virtual Reality is still quite high but it is coming down and becoming more and more accessible. Some people complain of motion sickness, which is an issue that companies are doing their best to minimise and prevent. There are fears that Virtual Reality is too immersive mentally and that people will not be able to distinguish between the real world and the imaginary world. There are fears that people will become addicted to the thrills of Virtual Reality or the constant information input of Augmented Reality. And of course, there are the fears that Augmented Reality will come to intrude upon our rights to privacy, broadcasting to all our Face Book pages or any government information on age, salary or even police records. These are all well founded fears, but as with most things in life the risks are vastly reduced if something is not excessively abused and the possible benefits from them are astounding. Due to these two technologies, the way we see, interact and use the world around us is changing. As the technologies improve, skills, knowledge, training can all become more accessible. Places from the other side of the world can be visited, experienced and all from the comfort of your own home.