Virtual, augmented or mixed: the new realities

News and commentaries, Technology

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Many, many years ago, I somehow managed to borrow a View-Master and saw for the first time, stereoscopic images of some tourist attractions (I can’t even remember which ones). What I remember is how my heart skipped a beat and I felt an unnamed longing – probably wanderlust. A few weeks ago, I felt a very similar reaction when I saw another video from Magic Leap. This time the longing is more defined. After decades of being promised the wonders of virtual reality and mixed reality, I have a longing to see this technology bear its full potential.

Needless to say, I have been thinking of virtual reality as one of the most exciting consumer technologies since I first heard of Magic Leap. But, outside of my little bubble, I am taken aback by how little people know about it or even how unexcited some people can be about it. So, in thinking of ways to approach this post about VR/AR/MR, I want to answer the question of: What is it and where are we at with VR? This is the first in a series of posts that will attempt to answer those questions.

What is virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality?
You and I are not alone in being confused with the terminologies. I most often use virtual reality as a blanket term or if I’m being generous, use augmented reality when I think of mixed reality. There are several articles on this, including Wikipedia ones. I will share the definitions that makes the most sense to me.

Virtual reality or virtual realities (VR), also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, is a computer technology that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment in a way that allows the user to interact with it. (Wikipedia)

In today’s parlance, VR refers to an experience afforded by a head-mounted display, filling your vision with a real or imagined environment. It also includes 3-D audio for surround-sound and controllers that let you interact with this virtual world.

Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. (Wikipedia)

AR augments or inlays digital information on top of the real world. This is probably not as exciting as space travel with VR, but AR is very useful for hands-free work.

Mixed reality (MR), sometimes referred to as hybrid realityis 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. (Wikipedia)

MR is simply that, a mix of VR and AR. Just like AR, you can still see the real world but you will also be able to see an interactive virtual object. In MR, when you walk around this virtual object and get close to it, it will project just like a real object would.

On the next post, I will talk about the devices that go into these categories. Stay tuned!