Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality Explained

If you want to be up-to-date in the high tech world you need to understand the terms VR and AR. They are both amazing technologies that are quickly moving into our everyday world.

Preface

It has always been a joy to be transported to a different time and place. The Greeks, Romans, and American Indians did this for their listeners by telling wonderful stories.  These story tellers transported their listeners to alternative realities. With radio we were immersed in tales like Fibber McGee and Molly where we could listen and vividly imagine being right in the McGee’s home. Then came movies, television, and gaming devices. These devices totally immersed us in their stories.

Now we have moved on even farther into other realities and amplified realities with two newer technologies: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Virtual Reality Explained

Virtual Reality replicates an environment that lets you see and feel like you are in another world. This is generally done by wearing goggles which put a screen in front of your eyes to show you that new world. Some of these VR devices have built-in audio and vibrations and other haptic feedback that help to make the new world feel quite real.

Many have immersive 360 degree visual capabilities so you are completely surrounded by the new world. Often you can interact with that new world as when you might play a VR game. This new storytelling technique is totally immersive since you are completely pulled into the world inside the headset.

Dedicated VR devices started reaching the market in 2016. Samsung and Oculus have recently released their first everyday consumer product, the Samsung Gear VR headset. At $99 it is well-priced, but must be paired with a newer Samsung Galaxy smartphone to make it work.  Other VR devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive and start at $599 and require a powerful PC to work. Sony will soon release their PlayStation VR at $399.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is another way to look at a different world.  Instead of replacing the current reality with an alternate reality as VR does, AR adds to our current reality. So with AR, you can still see the real world around you, but certain things in your world are augmented. With AR, information about the real environment and its objects is overlaid on the real world.  For instance, a nurse wearing a pair of AR glasses would be able to see everything in the room exactly as it really is. However, when he or she is ready to insert an IV into your arm, the veins in your arms would be totally visible.

AR technology is sometimes accomplished with goggles, like VR, but there are also AR applications that use lightweight glasses or partial glasses. There are also small handheld AR displays, digital AR projectors, and even contact lenses that project AR information. Several companies, including Google, are working on lasers that send information directly to the eyes.

Microsoft is working on a HoloLens AR headset that will work with Windows 10. Google is still working on their Google Glass project which will now focus on the workplace.

With AR you can interact with it through gaze, voice, and/or hand motions. If you saw the movie Minority Report and remember Tom Cruise moving information around in the air you have seen an accurate depiction of an augmented reality device.

When Minority Report came out in 2002, it was very futuristic. Now that future is already here.

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