The possibility of having more than a singular reality in itself might sound bizarre, but the advent of augmented reality, virtual reality, even mixed reality, has changed the way we perceive the world.
Everyone knows of or has used Snapchat filters: a shining example of the use of augmented reality technology, where real life is interspersed with the virtual world.
What’s the difference between Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR)?
Augmented reality (AR) adds graphics in the form of videos, pictures, music, and even maps, on top of our vision of the real or physical world, most commonly through the use of a camera on smartphones or other computing devices, thus enhancing or augmenting our vision of the real world.
According to Techopedia:
Devices such as Google Glass and Magic Leap use augmented reality technology. Snapchat and Pokemon Go are also famous examples of augmented reality apps. In more recent times, Apple has developed some amazing AR solutions for iOS.
Virtual reality (VR) on the other hand shuts out the real-life or physical world completely, immersing one into the virtual world. VR devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard are examples of VR technology.
VR headsets such as Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive offer an intuitive and immersive experience where the users’ vision is blocked by the VR headsets and the computer-generated simulated reality becomes the perceived reality.
While Oculus Rift and HTC Vive act as a special VR viewer to view virtual or simulated reality and immerses the user while giving complete freedom of movement, others like Google Cardboard use VR apps on mobile devices thus not giving a complete immersion experience but allowing freedom of movement.
Mixed reality (MR) combines elements of both augmented reality and virtual reality, where the physical world and virtual world interact with each other offering a truly immersive experience. Microsoft HoloLens is the most notable device using mixed reality technology.
Types of Augmented Reality (AR)
- Marker Based Augmented Reality
Marker Based AR (also called Image Recognition or Recognition Based Augmented Reality) uses a camera in the AR device and some type of visual markers, such as a QR/2D code, to produce a result.
- Markerless Augmented Reality
Markerless AR or location-based augmented reality is one of the most widely used AR technologies. This type of AR does not use a recognition system to provide virtual outputs on the screen.
It uses GPS, digital compass, velocity meter, or accelerometer embedded in the computing devices to provide data based on location.
- Projection-Based Augmented Reality
Projection-based augmented reality works by projecting artificial light onto real-world surfaces and then sensing the human interaction (i.e. touch) of that projected light.
Laser plasma technology makes it possible to project three-dimensional interactive holograms mid-air and is just one of the use cases of AR technologies.
- Superimposition Based Augmented Reality
Superimposition based augmented reality partially or fully replaces the original view of an object in the real world with a newly augmented view of that same object.
Object recognition plays a vital role in superimposition based augmented reality applications, as the application cannot replace the original view with an augmented one if it cannot determine what the object is.
How Does Augmented Reality Technology Work?
Augmented reality applications merge the virtual world with the real world by visually depicting computer-generated graphics as part of real life.
Augmented reality apps enable the user to see both artificial, as well as natural light, and the user is aware of being in the real world.
AR apps use a wide variety of displays, such as screens, monitors, handheld devices or glasses.
Heads up display such as Google Glass fits AR directly onto your face, and the technology is moving towards integrating the display of AR apps in contact lenses or other such devices for retinal display.
The technology behind augmented reality uses the following components:
- Sensors and Cameras
Various sensors devices collect data about users’ interactions and send it for processing. Cameras on devices scan the surroundings and using this info, a device locates physical objects and generates 3D models.
It could either be specific high definition cameras, such as the Microsoft Hololens, or common smartphone cameras.
In the case of Microsoft Hololens, specific cameras perform specific duties, where depth-sensing cameras work in tandem with two ‘environment understanding cameras’ on each side of the device.
AR computing devices ideally act like little computers, akin to what modern smartphones already do.
Therefore, in order to use AR apps, you require a CPU, a GPU, flash memory, RAM, Bluetooth/WiFi, a GPS, etc. so as to measure speed, angle, direction, orientation in space, and so on.
This is not to be mistaken with the category of the technology behind augmented reality apps that is called ‘Projection based augmented reality’.
Projection refers to a miniature projector on AR headsets, which takes data from sensors and projects digital content as a result of processing onto a surface for users to view.
Some devices using AR apps have a mirror or an array of mirrors (such as in Magic Leap augmented reality device) to assist human eyes to view virtual images by reflecting light to a camera and to a user’s eye. These reflection paths help in proper image alignment to the users’ eyes.
Augmented Reality Applications
The most popular use of augmented reality is in gaming, be it games available on your app store such as Pokémon Go or to enhance the real-time experience for football games being played in real life. AR features enable an evolved and much better experience for players across the gaming fraternity.
The use of AR features in retail and eCommerce helps in offering better customer engagement, retention, brand awareness, and eventually leading to more sales. Some AR features may also help customers make better purchase decisions.
AR also has the potential to deliver enhanced education and learning by transforming textbooks and classrooms into interactive experiences.
Several applications available today on the app store offer AR aids in learning and development for children.
From flying in airlines to driving your own car, augmented reality applications are helping in making transportation easier, more efficient, and in turn safer.
AR has aided in making autonomous cars a reality, thus minimizing human inputs and errors in driving.
- Real Estate
The use of AR in real estate can also be a game-changer, through 3D tours of apartments and houses. It also helps in better imagining furniture placement around the house, which has been well utilized by IKEA Place App and Houzz.
Healthcare is the most promising sector as far as the use of AR applications goes – with AR features being used for learning or practicing medical procedures, to help patients with the recovery process.
10 Augmented Reality Startups on .TECH Domain
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – The Comparison
From what we’ve explained above, it is clear that while VR completely immerses the user in a simulated reality through the use of VR headsets, AR, on the other hand, adds a layer of virtual information to the real-time live view of our reality with computer-generated graphics on AR apps and mobile devices.
Freedom of Movement
Both VR, as well as AR, can allow complete freedom of movement, depending on whether they are using 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) or 3-degrees-of-freedom (3DOF) motion tracking.
VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR or Windows Mixed Reality Headsets use 6DOF motion tracking via external sensors or cameras that help detect direction as well as movement.
Whereas VR headsets such as Oculus Go and mobile-based headsets such as Google Daydream View use 3DOF motion tracking, which means they only track direction and not the movement.
AR apps on mobile devices can work perfectly using 3DOF, however, most applications use 6DOF such that the projected image can be maintained with respect to your physical position.
Perception of Reality
This is where augmented reality and virtual reality differ distinctly – VR can transform your reality by completely changing your vision of reality through simulations. VR imparts a feeling wherein users experience being part of a virtually created reality.
AR on the other hand only adds on to or enhances your view of the real world image seen on your device or by projecting simulations that can be viewed as part of the real world, thus altering your perception of reality but still ensuring that the real world is very much a part of the perceived reality.
For video games, therefore, in the choice between AR vs VR, VR allows for more scope for creating fictions and fantasies that are restricted with AR.
The automobile industry, on the other hand, prefers AR over VR, as the driver is required to be aware of its surroundings in order to ensure safety, while AR can be utilized effectively to enhance the driving experience or take over the driving as in the case of autonomous cars.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – Who is the winner?
The question is not so much about augmented reality and virtual reality as both AR and VR technologies have shown promising use cases for enhancing human life and making it more efficient, and may we say fun.
Not only are the uses widespread in the video games industry, but there is also immense scope for simulated reality produced by both augmented reality and virtual reality technologies across education, healthcare, retail, real estate, marketing, et al.
AR vs VR debate aside, both technologies are being adopted rapidly, and are more relevant today than ever before with billions across the globe gaining access to smart devices and millions addicted to video games such as Pokémon Go.
Despite this, the growth of both augmented reality and virtual reality is hindered by our ability to generate 3D environments in real-time, however, comparing AR vs VR the situation is less hindering in the case of AR because of the environment already exists.
In the comparison of accomplishment between augmented reality and virtual reality, despite the similar design of the devices themselves, they accomplish different things in very different ways.
There is no clear winner, although AR adoption rates look slightly better than VR. However, they are both powerful technologies that have yet to be explored to their full potential.
Augmented Reality applications are going to rapidly become a part of our everyday lives. AR will be a part of every aspect of our lives, helping and enhancing our reality to one that is more efficient.
It’s safe to say that we should all be ready to brace for the era of AR as it is simmering about to explode soon.