February 15th, 2017 was a fantastic day! I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation from Chuck Rinker and Phil Abbott on Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality. The presentation was wonderful and these two very knowledgeable gentlemen did a great job explaining what exactly these terms mean, but more importantly, how they differ from each other in both the technology and application. I thought I might share some of that wisdom today.
First, let’s take a quick look at the terms, and their textbook definitions:
Augmented Reality – Noun. A technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.
Virtual Reality – Noun. The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.
Mixed Reality – Noun. sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.
That was simple enough, right? But the real question is the differences in application of the three. First let’s take a look at the similarities between AR and VR. AR and VR both leverage some of the same technology and both are used to created enhanced experiences. While both are becoming more common place, particularly in the entertainment and scientific communities, there are some important differences that make for very real differences in application. Augmented Reality improves experiences by adding virtual components such as images or graphics as a new “layer: on top of the “real world”, while Virtual Reality creates a completely new environment that is separate and distinct from “reality”, and is typically computer generated. Interestingly, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are not necessarily an either-or proposition! Mixed Reality is a combination of both worlds, where elements are generated within the virtual space but combined with other systems that function or exist in the real world, with the real and the virtual interacting with each other to create a completely new type of environment.
In application, AR and VR are quite different. Let’s take a look at one of Chuck Rinker’s products. It is an AR game called Soda Shaq. It was developed for Arizona as part of the Soda Shaq line of products. This cool little game overlays the face of Shaquille O’Neal onto a drink can and lets the user shoot basketball against a smack-talking Shaq. The face of our hero and the basketball hoop are overlain on the physical real can.
In Virtual Reality, such a game might be playing against a full-sized Shaq in a fully immersive environment, complete with cheering crowds!
Another interesting application previewed by Rinker and Abbott was a Virtual Reality collaborative design environment. This is not something that is possible using AR. However, VR is a perfect medium for this type of application. Two designers in two different locations are able to work within a single shared, albeit computer generated, environment to work on designs simultaneous, complete with all of the advantages of working together within the same room. The application allowed for wither person to make changes to the same objects within the space and that space appeared to be modified in real-time! That is pretty amazing for someone that works in design almost every day. The possibilities seem almost endless.
For more information on AR, VR and Mixed Reality follow Chuck on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. I do!