Nowadays new products are appearing in the business of electronic devices and IT technologies with an amazing speed and frequency, progress does not stop and it is not far off when innovative devices of imagination, will become part of everyday life. The following adjacent interconnected technologies are already becoming insanely popular: Virtual reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed reality (MR). The two distinctive characteristics of those three “realities” are how deep is the feeling of immersion in the virtual place and a unique way of interaction with it.
In a nutshell, the difference between the three ‘realities’ is this:
- Virtual reality replaces the real world
- Augmented reality adds to the real world
- Mixed reality adds virtual elements to the real world that behave as if they truly belong
Let’s take a closer look at virtual reality? It is a three-dimensional computer-simulated environment that mimics physical presence in a real world. It can model objects, calculate the real environment, place users into the virtual world created by the information system. VR needs a stereoscopic Head Mounted Display (HMD) to work, it replaces the real life.
Components of VR
- Immersion. Immersion is what a user experiences in virtual environment. The aim of virtual reality is to achieve complete immersion. This happens when a person cannot tell the difference between the virtual and real worlds, therefore they start interacting with the objects and ambience the way they would in real life. Combining a feeling of immersion and interactivity is called telepresence.
- Interaction. Users experience a strong feeling of telepresence if interaction is simple and fun. It could be still convenient even though virtual environment isn’t photo-realistic. When cyberspace is realistic, and yet does not provide interaction, it leads to a perfect loss of interest relatively quick. Therefore, interaction is vital. It provides a user with comfort and true engagement.
Types of virtual reality
Depending on the levels of immersion and cases of technology use, virtual reality falls into three categories:
- Non-immersive. It has almost no immersive realization of virtual reality technologies. This category uses a system of desktops. You can experience virtual environment by using a monitor with common high resolution.
- Semi-immersive. It provides greater immersion. A user is partly, but not completely, immersed in virtual environment. It provides better graphic performance by using large-screen monitors, large-screen projector systems, multiple television projection systems.
- Fully-immersive. It supplies immersive realization of virtual reality technology. A user is required to wear an HMD (Head Mounted Display).
Augmented reality can be described as an additional layer to our reality. It does not replace the real world, it just adds something, you can still see or hear the environment around you, whereas VR completely puts you in a different reality with total immersion.
AR can’t change people’s imagination of the world and its representation, but complements the real world with artificial objects and new information.
There are various types of AR. The key differences between them are the objectives and use of applications. Here are some types of augmented reality:
- Marker based AR. It needs a camera with addition of some kinds of visual markers, for example, a QR/2D code, to deliver an outcome when a reader senses the marker.
- Markerless AR. In order to provide data based on certain location AR needs a GPS, digital compass, velocity meter, or accelerometer, which are integrated in the device. It is usually used for displaying directions, locating close businesses, and other location-based mobile applications. “Markerless AR” does not need to determine a user’s environment to place a 3D element into a scene and keep it to a fixed point in space.
- Projection based AR. It uses projections of arranged light onto surfaces of real environment. The interaction is implemented by touching a projected light on the surface.
- Superimposition based AR. It partly or completely replaces a certain object with an augmented picture of that object. To determine the object, it uses object recognition.
Of all the three ‘realities’, this one is the least known, but ironically, perhaps, has the easiest path to consumers. The easiest way to explain MR is to say it combines the best aspects of VR and AR.
MR mixes with virtuality, adds believable virtual elements to the world. The aim of MR is to unite the best characteristic of virtual reality and AR. So mixed reality can include augmented reality, augmented virtuality, and other mixed alliances. MR anchors apparently solid virtual objects in a user’s real world. Therefore, they appear real to the user.
Here are types of mixed reality:
- MR Continuum. This range covers all possible varieties and arrangements of real and virtual elements. MR continuum covers the whole range from a completely real and natural environment, to a completely virtual environment.
- MR Independent. The preponderantly virtual spaces where real world objects or people are merged with virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations. In these environments, real-life objects and virtual objects coexist and interact in real time.
How are ‘reality’ technologies used today
E-learning experience goes totally immersive
‘Reality’ technologies in e-learning programs and applications provide interactive experiential learning and bring remote learning to the next level. They are widely utilized for training aviation, engineering, geography, and biology students.
Here are some examples of applications that use VR in e-learning:
- Unimersiv. This startup company has released a VR educational app that provides its users with three new experiences each month. For example, traveling to the insides of a human body, Stonehenge or the International Space Station. The so-called travel is accompanied with educational content like narrations, pop-up texts and images.
- Nearpod. This EdTech company has developed an app that offers different kinds of tours around the world and even beyond with the presentation of educational narration, text, and study materials. Nearpod employs Google’s low-cost Cardboard, a headset to provide a VR experience via ordinary smartphones.
Property purchase & rental have never been more augmented
VR and AR technologies have a great impact on real estate industry. With their help, people can inspect property without actually being present physically. These technologies are changing people’s experience of home buying, building and selling.
VR headsets allow potential buyers to tour properties from anywhere in the world, they also can include functionality that allow them to open doors, explore property amenities, and rearrange furniture.
Augmented reality provides interactive experience for people. Clients can customize home colors, furniture, and scale long before a buying process.
Travel & Hospitality industry takes you ‘virtually’ everywhere in an instant
‘Reality’ technologies in a travel industry can give people a realistic preview of their destination and form their expectations. VR applications can improve people’s experience with hotels, airlines and museums.
Here are some examples of VR use in the travel industry:
- Google Street View. An old Google’s app has been recently upgraded to VR age. This app allows users to walk around any random city in the world. The app itself is free and with the help of a Cardboard headset you can enter the virtual world.
- Hotel Provided VR Headsets. A hotel giant Marriott began a service that can provide guests with a Samsung Gear VR head-mounted display. The headset has a number of virtual experiences set around the world.
- Virtual Museum Tours. Startup company Woofbert developed an app that creates virtual art galleries. It allows users to completely immerse in the environment of museums. People can walk the halls and look at pieces from any angle while listening to an expert’s narrative.
Media & Entertainment industry will take you on a rollercoaster of ‘reality’ experiences
VR and AR technologies open new opportunities and varieties of entertainment. When people think about virtual reality, they instantly imagine video games. However, these technologies go further than that.
Here are some examples of VR entertainment:
- Virtual Reality Movie Theaters. Soon a VR Cinema is going to open in Amsterdam. The concept of this cinema is quite simple, people are going to watch movies wearing head-mounted displays, so they will watch a movie entirely in the virtual world. There won’t be any big screens, only comfortable chairs and headsets.
- Virtual Reality Theme Park Rides. VR Coaster is the firm that combines traditional rides with virtual reality. With the use of a head-mounted display, riders can be transported to different fantastic environments. This type of entertainment provides more a convincing and immersive experience.
- Augmented Reality TV. Augmented reality is naturally the next step for the industry. SeeSpace is a firm that developed a new type of television experience called Augmented TV using InAir AR technology. InAir uses a set-top box and the existing 3D abilities of many televisions, and surfaces related web content for sports games, TV shows. Content appears all around the set.
Augment your worldwide business interaction
Reality technologies are going to change the way business runs. Here are some examples of how reality applications are used in businesses:
- VR Remote Training Employees. The use of VR in remote training can easily decrease the cost of training. It allows for a single instructor to teach an entire classroom of employees from all around the world.
- Mixed Reality Data Organization. A floating user interface has been popularized in the media for quite a while now, but still has not been brought to life. The concept presupposes using hand motions for data manipulation. Recently the science consultant behind Minority Report built Mezzanine, mixed reality room that is close to this concept.
A taste of the future
VR tools for web developers
WebVR is a new experimental web browser feature being worked on by several leading browser companies including Mozilla, Google and Microsoft. All of them working on how VR can be integrated into the web browser experience.
Let’s dive into an actual working feature. For example, Mozilla’s A-Frame is basically an open-source framework for allowing web designers to include web virtual reality elements within HTML. What A-Frame does is allow people who aren’t that skilled in creating complex web 3D elements in virtual reality to insert those elements with simple HTML code. Therefore, they could build a simple virtual reality web-browsing experience with just HTML. After creating 3D elements, people can view their work by opening the two screens regime on their phone through mobile browser and use Google Cardboard or other VR headsets.
Both WebVR and A-Frame are designed to simplify the development of virtual reality applications for the Web. In an extensive tutorial, Kevin Ngo shows how to create a Roomscale-WebVR-Minecraft-demo with A-Frame and only eleven HTML elements, which will then be shown with the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Cardboard and mobile.
What can this technology bring to the future of the web? There is a great platform now that will soon allow us to see websites in 3D. It can also be a start of new devices, which will provide access to websites in VR. So maybe with this technology, websites of the future will become a 3D environment.
AR technology for industrial enterprise
What can AR do for Industrial Enterprise? Michael Campbell, Executive Vice President ThingWorx Products in the Technology Platforms Group (TPG) at PTC, has recently demonstrated how ThingWorx Studio can transform applications into immersive experiences that enable users to better create, service, and operate products in the smart, connected world through augmented reality.
He explained how AR can be a big help in Industrial Enterprise. For example, a lab technician uses a blood analyzer machine, but the machine stops working. So instead of calling a service technician, he uses a pad that can guide him through the fixing procedure. AR technology is used to show the exact steps of a procedure, it highlights the necessary parts of the machine a user has to interact with. It also shows how the interaction is supposed to happen.
AR & IoT alliance
James Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC, has recently stressed the importance of Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR) converging.
He speculated on how to get rid of the gap between physical and digital world. For example, a smart tennis racquet, which has sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscope, is part of IoT and the only access to its data is through the app. Therefore, this device exists in two of these separate worlds. In order to bridge them, it is necessary to bring AR in the equation. AR can help visualize data from the smart devices with the use of headsets and special glasses. Another example is using an AR headset in the car to make navigation easier.
Experts’ take on the future of augmented, virtual, and mixed reality
It’s still open to debate how reality technologies are going to be used in the future and which is going to be more popular. But most experts are unanimous about these.
Invest in your ‘reality’ wisely
The most popular opinion is that VR is for entertainment only. For example, Tomi T Ahonen, author of 13 books and consultant in tech focusing on mobile, refers to VR as a gaming platform. VR will have some specialized uses but only AR is a mass market. So his suggestion is that brands outside of gaming and some experience brands should do AR, not VR.
Joel Comm, New York Times best-selling author, social influencer, keynote speaker and futurist, predicts that VR will become more affordable for consumers by late 2017, while AR will take on a larger role in real-world applications such as medicine and construction/interior design.
Jonahkai Hancock, a Director of marketing at TUNE, also shares this opinion: “I think some of the augmented reality is more likely to happen, although full-on virtual reality will have some amazing applications in fields such as medicine, training, etc.” With the growth of mobile devices, mixed and augmented realities are going to be the best surefire bets in the coming year.
So much for VR and AR. But how does MR fit in this equation? Tamara McCleary, Thulium CEO, thinks MR is opening an opportunity to show versus tell that the customers and brands poised to harness MR are positioning themselves for the next big disruption.
Albert Einstein Renshaw, PhD, supports this view: everyone should abandon virtual reality and only focus on mixed reality.
Does that mean all the experts are optimistic about the future of ‘realities’ technologies?
Another popular opinion is ‘don’t rush it!’.
Director of social and evolving media for business wire, Serena Ehrlich, has a good reason. These tools are still in beta and many consumers are not embracing the technology as they should. She encourages to use these tools in 2017 only if they can directly tie your consumer closer to your business goals. Otherwise wait for at least another year before diving in.
Aaron Strout, CMO of W2O Group, also thinks not every company rushing to have some use of AR, VR or MR in their product will benefit, most will execute these technologies poorly thus running the risk of turning off consumers en masse.
Todd Haselton, Executive Editor of TechnoBuffalo, suggests that everyone should take time to do it right, because first impressions really matter. Moreover, poorly made VR can make you feel sick and AR can feel cluttered.
Therefore, businesses had better think through their business plans, try to incorporate reality technologies wisely, and take time to make them good.
Although still nascent, ‘realities’ technology doesn’t seem like a fad. It’s still up in the air how hard it can disrupt our future. It’s clear, though, its evolution will change our life as we know it. By keeping informed, you’ll know when to bring the future to your business.