Augmented and virtual reality technologies are already changing how we play games, travel, and learn. What’s next for these popular technologies?
What are augmented realty and virtual reality?
Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are popular technologies, but they aren’t the same thing. AR is technology that overlays computer-generated images and information on top of a view of the real world, usually through a camera on a device like a smart phone. A person using AR is still connected to the world around them, but they can also interact with the digital, or “augmented,” objects they see on the screen.
Virtual reality (VR) is an experience where a person is completely immersed in a computer-generated world and they lose connection with the real environment. They rely on a headset with a screen and headphones and sensory gloves to interact with the virtual world they are experiencing.
How are we using AR now?
On mobile devices, satellite navigation systems, like GPS, are used to know precisely where a person is, and then an internet connection allows an app to overlay information over the view through the device’s camera. The most popular example of an app like this is the game Pokémon Go.
Another fun app using AR is PortalAR, which uses the view through your phone camera to open “portals” to locations in Scotland—you can end up looking at the view from the top of a mountain or from the inside of a castle when you open the app and step forward into the “portal.” As you move your phone around, the 360-degree photo makes you feel like you’re really there.
There are other apps that use AR to see what it would look like to paint your room a different color, or what different furniture would look like in your house.
Some cars have a heads-up display (HUD) that allows the driver to see information, like their speed, reflected on the windshield glass in front of them. Fighter pilots also use this AR technology on their helmets to track important flight information from their aircraft’s gauges without taking their eyes off the sky in front of them.
Medical students use AR to explore organs in 3D and project them on to their own bodies. They can also use this to show patients what an operation will look like.
How are we using VR?
VR is being used by video gamers as well as scientists, doctors, airline pilots, engineers, architects, archaeologists, and the military. Many of these professions use VR to practice and train for difficult and dangerous jobs. Surgeons can get experience without risking damage to a real human body, and pilots can practice landing an airplane without risking a crash with a real airplane.
Scientists can use VR to explore and experiment with the world at the molecular and atomic levels.
How will they both change the future?
Both AR and VR are changing the way we communicate, learn, and interact with our world. In the future, all classrooms might have VR technology that would allow students to step into and experience ancient worlds or outer space. Think about VR field trips across the world! Soon, more and more games, music concerts, and tours of exotic destinations will be available to people through VR, giving them experiences they might not otherwise be able to afford.