Augmented reality. Virtual reality. VR and AR. You’ve probably heard these terms used to describe video games and other programs. They’re becoming much more popular now that our technology is reaching the point where these kinds of interfaces can be made portable. But what is the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality — and where can each of these technologies be applied?
What’s the Difference between AR and VR ?
Virtual reality, as its name implies, creates a virtual representation of reality — or, rather, a “particular” reality. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the real one.
The idea behind virtual reality has been around for a while. The term itself was coined in the 1980s when the founder of VPL Research developed a set of goggles and gloves that allowed users to explore a virtual environment. They were rudimentary compared to the VR headsets you can purchase today, like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
The 1970s and ’80s saw NASA working on the Virtual Interface Environment Workstation, which paired a VR headset with a set of haptic gloves to enable users to interact more directly and convincingly with the virtual world.
Today, you can even use your cell phone to explore virtual worlds with things like Google Cardboard or Samsung’s VR headset. Simply place your phone in the headset and you’re off to explore worlds unknown.
Augmented reality takes the idea of the virtual world to a whole new level by projecting virtual creations onto the real world. It made the news when “Pokémon Go” hit the ‘net in 2016, but the idea of augmented reality actually debuted in 1968. The first example of AR was able to display simple wireframe drawings — although it wasn’t actually called “augmented reality” until the term was coined in 1990.
Now, you can project dinosaurs, Pokémon and other extinct or fictional creatures onto your environment using just your phone as you play their various games. Where else could you see augmented reality taking off?
Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: Practical Applications
Right now, virtual reality is primarily used in gaming — but there are plenty of other applications for this advancing technology. Virtual reality is being used in medical settings for everything from chronic pain management to training new surgeons. It’s being used to help soldiers who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, too.
It can even be used to make virtual models of patients’ homes for those who are stuck in the hospital during treatment. It can make patients more comfortable during extended stays, which helps to improve their recovery and reduce the length of their hospital stays.
VR can be used to make virtual representations of homes that are under construction by providing a 3D model that architects and construction workers can explore to discover any problems with the designs before the foundation is laid.
VR has been used in the military for everything from flight and battlefield simulations to virtual boot camps and medical training.
It can even be used in dentists’ offices to keep patients entertained and reduce their anxiety during dental procedures. Walmart is even starting to use VR to train its new associates, though it isn’t the only big company that’s turning to virtual reality rather than human trainers.
Virtual reality is a great tool that can be used for nearly anything.
Sports broadcasts have been using augmented reality since the late 1990s to mark first down lines on the television screen. Around this time, the Navy also started working on an augmented battlefield system that gave users a heads-up display that transmitted real-time battle data. NASA used it for flight map overlays during test flights as well.
Today, AR is primarily used for gaming. “Jurassic World: Evolution” allows you to wander your neighborhood and catch dinosaurs. “Pokémon Go” allows you to do the same with Pokémon. These applications use the phone’s camera to project these creatures onto the environment, so if you’ve ever wanted to see a velociraptor on your couch or a Pikachu on your computer’s keyboard, these are the applications for you.
AR can be used in many of the same ways that VR can: for medical preparation, military training and education. AR is still fairly new, at least the version that’s available to civilian consumers, so we haven’t had a chance to truly explore all the potential benefits that AR has to offer.
What Does the Future Hold?
Augmented reality and virtual reality are fantastic tools that have more applications than just gaming. As with most computer-related things, the potential applications are limited only by our imagination and our available technology. And with technology advancing by the day, there are plenty of limits that are just waiting to be broken.
It will be interesting to see where the technology goes from here. There are plenty of imaginative people in the VR and AR industries, and while their primary focus might be gaming, that isn’t going to stop anyone from coming up with new and inventive ways to use this quickly advancing technology. Maybe the next step will include virtual classrooms for people who live in rural areas and who want to take specialized courses but can’t travel to the classrooms where they are being taught.
We can’t wait to see where virtual reality takes us next, whether it’s to the moon, Mars, across the universe or to some fantastic fictional land we can’t even imagine yet. You can already use virtual reality to explore the universe thanks to photos taken by the European Space Agency — so why not use it to explore other universes as well?