Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two modern technologies that are continuing to rise in popularity, with more and more uses for both being developed frequently. They’re often confused with one another but both technologies are very different from one another despite being a merging of reality and fiction.
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality is designed to create a simulated environment that the user can feel immersed in as it attempts to feel like reality. The most common VR technology comes in the form of VR headsets that are worn by the user, enabling them to look around inside the digital world when they look around in reality. With some forms of VR, the user is able to move around in the simulated world when they move around in real life, there are also VR accessories that act as hands that the user can use to pick up and interact with items in the virtual world. The intent is to blur the lines between the real world and the virtual world.
In recent years, virtual reality has become more accessible to the general public thanks to companies like Sony releasing PSVR at an affordable price. You can even get VR experiences on your mobile devices now, although they’re simple in comparison to the experience you’d get on a PS4 or high-end computer. It’s safe to assume that virtual reality will continue to rise in popularity and will eventually become mainstream technology, although it is still relatively niche right now.
Uses of virtual reality
Virtual reality is commonly used for entertainment purposes, with the most common use of virtual reality being video games. VR is also used for 3D cinema, where users can feel as if they truly are watching a World Cup match from the commentator box. There are more practical uses for VR, including using it as a cost-effective form of therapy to treat those with anxiety, PTSD, or severe phobias.
Surgery training is sometimes done using virtual reality, a simulated VR surgical environment can allow the trainees to identify errors in their technique without any real repercussions. Flight simulators and driver training courses can also utilise virtual reality to give the learner some experience before the real thing. Engineers and architects can use VR to visualise prototypes of designs without spending the money to produce a physical prototype.
Virtual reality controversies
There have been a number of concerns regarding the usage of virtual reality and the short-term and long-term effects it may have on the user. Virtual reality systems come with warnings that state the user may experience things like seizures or discomfort. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to use virtual reality as it could cause developmental issues in children. People can easily lose their sense of awareness when using VR technology and may injure themselves or those around them when moving.
We also don’t know what the long-term effects may be as the technology is still relatively new. It’s theorised by some that the effect of VR on our eyes could be drastic and cause eye fatigue or myopia but only time will tell. It’s common for VR to cause motion sickness symptoms in those that are new to using it.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality focuses on bringing a virtual experience into the real world, this is normally done by making virtual elements appear through the view of a camera. Augmented reality alters the user’s perception of their real-world environment, whereas virtual reality aims to replace the user’s real-world environment with a virtual one. In the majority of cases, the digital characters and props that appear in augmented reality are able to be interacted with when the user moves in front of the camera.
Augmented reality is most common on mobile devices as the majority of modern smartphones are equipped with high-quality cameras and the app store is able to host many different augmented reality enhanced apps. There are also more home-based augmented reality devices, such as Microsoft’s Kinect or Sony’s PlayStation Camera. These allow for more advanced AR experiences.
Uses of augmented reality
Much like virtual reality, augmented reality is typically used for entertainment purposes, with perhaps the most notable example being the 2016 mobile app: Pokémon GO. Pokémon GO took the world by storm and pushed AR into the mainstream as nearly everyone was playing it. The game used augmented reality to display various digital creatures in real-world locations that the user could then capture on the app.
Augmented reality is also prevalent in social media apps like Snapchat, where the user can alter their face in real-time using their camera. Augmented reality can also be used in architecture, where a computer-generated image of a structure can be displayed as if it was in reality, so people can get an idea of what the finished build will look like.
In the future, companies hope to make augmented reality more integrated with our lives, by creating AR compatible glasses and goggles that the user can wear and interact with as they go about their day.
Augmented reality controversies
As with any modern technology, augmented reality isn’t without its potential drawbacks. For instance, Pokémon GO was seen as the cause for “a disproportionate increase in vehicular crashes and associated vehicular damage, personal injuries, and fatalities in the vicinity of locations, called PokéStops, where users can play the game while driving” according to a study from a pair of researchers. This could be due the immersion of AR acting as a distraction. With the future hinting at attempts to merge AR and reality even more, who knows what the effects will be?