As new technology becomes mainstream, it is often accompanied by a fresh glossary of technical terms, which can lead to confusion from potential users.
To simplify the main components of this new immersive space it is useful to define the differences.
- Virtual reality (VR) immerses users in a fully artificial digital environment. This can be rendered from the real world (360 video) or using CGI
- Augmented reality (AR) overlays virtual objects on the real-world environment
- Mixed reality (MR) not just overlays but anchors virtual objects to the real world and interacts in a responsive way
This technology immerses users in a virtual environment that is completely generated by a computer. The most advanced VR experiences even provide freedom of movement – users can move in a digital environment and hear sounds. Moreover, special hand controllers can be used to enhance VR experiences, and haptic peripherals1 can add enhancement and feedback to movements.
To experience virtual reality, special headsets are required. Most VR headsets are connected to a computer (Oculus Rift) or a gaming console (PlayStation VR) to harness computational power to enable high-fidelity experiences.
However, standalone devices such as Google Cardboard have become the most popular, especially given their low price point. Most standalone VR headsets work in combination with smartphones – you insert a smartphone into the headset and immediate enter the virtual world. This is slowly evolving to standalone, tetherless headsets that allow the user greater freedom of movement like the Oculus Quest.
Students can learn about how to interpret MRI scans with real patient data in VR.
Have you ever noticed a small cardboard icon when watching videos on YouTube? It enables the 360-degree mode that means you can wear a VR headset and experiences fully immersive videos. 360-degree videos are considered a form of VR.
Preston's College have used this approach very successfully to give health and social care students the opportunity to see the world from the perspective of someone with dementia. Read their case study to find out more about Preston's approach.
Embodying a dementia sufferer can give better understanding of the condition when training to be a support worker (360 video).
In augmented reality, users see and interact with the real world while digital content is added to it. If this sounds unclear, think of Pokémon Go – millions of people all over the world have been rushing with their smartphones in search for small virtual creatures. That’s the most vivid example of augmented reality.
If you own a modern smartphone, you can easily download an AR app and try this technology. Alternatively, there are also special AR headsets, such as Google Glass, where digital content is displayed on a tiny screen in front of a user’s eye.
This is the most recent development, sitting on the reality-vitality spectrum midway between AR and VR. Without getting too technical, it helps to examine the two broad definitions:
Mixed reality that starts with the real world
This is where virtual objects are not just overlaid on the real world, but can interact with it. In this case, a user remains in the real-world environment while digital content is added to it; moreover, a user can interact with virtual objects. Take a look at how Skype is used on Microsoft HoloLens.
Mixed reality that starts with the virtual world
The digital environment is anchored to and replaces the real world. In this case, a user is fully immersed in the virtual environment while the real world is blocked out. Sounds like virtual reality, right? In fact it does, but the digital objects overlap the real ones whereas in conventional VR the virtual environment isn’t connected to the real world around a user.
To experience this form of mixed reality, you can wear Windows mixed reality headsets. Watch an example of how it all works.
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- 1 Haptic technology, also known as kinaesthetic communication or 3D touch, refers to any technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haptic_technology