March 12, 2018

VR and AR: what are they and why do they matter?

Debora Pesci

You probably already heard of Pokémon Go, Ikea’s Place app, Google Glass and Samsung GearVR: all these cool inventions are supported by Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. But what exactly is VR? And AR? In this blog, we’ll dive into the exciting world of virtual and augmented reality.

virtual reality

 What are VR and AR?

To understand why VR and AR are increasingly becoming more popular, we need to understand what they mean.

Virtual reality, or VR, can be understood as an umbrella term for all sorts of immersive, computer-simulated environments. In its essence, VR is a computer-simulated reality. Head-mounted displays (HMDs) like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, and mobile-based headsets like Google Daydream and Samsung Gear are popular ways to experience VR. What makes VR interesting is that it immerses you in a new world and you experience this world like you’re there: your VR headset transports you to a completely different world, while in reality you may be sitting on your couch! Hearing and seeing things can trigger your brain to believe that it is in another reality: Virtual Reality. This can be for example used to make feel someone in the shoes of someone else.

In contrast with VR, Augmented reality, or AR, adds virtual elements onto the real world. Two popular examples, for instance, are Pokémon Go and Ikea’s Place app. With Pokémon Go you see, through your phone’s camera, Pokémon in the real world. This means that you may encounter Pikachu in your living room, or in your university canteen!

What do Pokémon and IKEA furniture have in common? With IKEA’s Place app, created in collaboration with Apple, you can place IKEA furniture in your home and decide what looks best. For instance, test out different wardrobes and find out which suits your bedroom the best. Another invention in AR technology is the Google Glass, one Google’s first attempt to integrate AR into headwear.

In a world where technology is evolving so fast and consumers want to experience more in new and innovative ways, large tech companies such as Google and Apple are creating VR and AR technologies to meet consumers’ demands. For instance, the 2012 Google Glass was the first attempt from Google to bring AR to consumers. Google is still evolving his VR/AR technologies.

Why do they matter?

VR and AR are important in the modern tech field because of both their implementations for consumers and the professional world. Speaking about leisurely implementations, VR and AR can be used for games, like Pokémon Go, or for entertainment, like being transported into a virtual reality. Next to this, VR and AR can help in professional fields, like the IKEA’s Place app, which essentially aims at improving customer satisfaction.

But the usability of VR and AR are versatile, they are also used to provide training to medical students for instance. In fact, thanks to VR/AR, they can work on digital cadavers or dummies which can easily, and cheaply, be reset and reused by several students. In addition, VR can be used to create digital labs which are much cheaper than physical labs. VR can also be used to distract someone from pain or to stimulate empathy by putting people in new situations.

Future directions in VR and AR

By seeing what it was already invented, we can define the future trends in VR and AR:

  • Google will to improve the first versions of its Google Glass and will use VR/AR more.
  • After the success of the VR/AR projects “First Life” at the Natural History Museum, “Parthenon sculptures” and “Bronze Age” exhibitions at the British Museum obtain, Disney wants also to bring AR experiences to its theme parks.
  • AR could help factory or construction workers to work “hands-free”. Workers would have instant access to blueprints in their eyesight as they look at the construction site. Another usage could be found for NASA engineers or astronauts, that could see important schematics laid on top of critical mission systems.
  • UC Berkeley is using AR is to communicate with robots. The problem with machines right now is that we need to turn toward secondary screens to get all our information. The solution would be to look at a robot, for example a drone, and instantly see its battery level, current task and where it’s going next. This would make the communication between humans and robots much easier!
  • Mixed Reality (MR) is a new Reality trend as allows the interaction between physical and digital elements. The most famous case is Microsoft’s HoloLens, which imposes virtual models of buildings, bodies or vehicles, where designers can walk around, inspect, and touch them.

It is expected that we will use more AR and MR technologies in the future. Currently, AR seems to be the best option to handle the social needs of humans. This is because AR augment our current world and doesn’t try to replace it, like VR does. Therefore, people working in VR, like Facebook, are working hard to make VR more social.

VR and AR are both fields on the rise, so taking steps in towards a career in these fields makes a futureproof career! New job opportunities are coming up in these exciting fields, such as VR/AR Project Manager, Programmer, Developer and Game Designer!

Complete your free registration with us today, and start building towards a futureproof career!

Programming courses

Topics: virtual reality, augmented reality