Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are terms that are used a lot these days, thanks to the popularity of the AR game Pokemon Go and the release of VR headsets such as Oculus Rift by Facebook. The AR/VR industry is set to reach $108 billion in the three years, and although in the past they have been focused on the gaming community, we are now just starting to see software and hardware that will have real-world uses. Here’s a run-down of the differences between these two types of technology, and an overview of the industries they may have an impact on.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality is software that is developed to enhance the world that we see, by overlaying it with digitally produced filters. You can use an AR device such as Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, that you wear like sunglasses and which will enable you to see everything that is in front of you and move freely while it projects an image over the scene you are looking at. You can also use your Smartphone as AR software will use your phone camera to track your surroundings, and then overlay additional information on it – such as in the case of the wildly popular game Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is a sophisticated example of AR as it projects a Pokemon onto the middle of your screen on top of whatever you are looking at, whereas a simpler example of AR is a data overlay allowing the time to be overlaid over your screen.
The history of AR is quite interesting. Did you know, for example, the first head-mounted AR display was created by a computer scientist named Ivan Sutherland at Harvard back in 1968? The first uses of AR were in the fields of aviation and the military, with virtual information such as geo-local information being overlaid on a physical environment. It wasn’t until 2008 that AR was first used for commercial purposes when a German agency produced a printed magazine advert featuring a BMW mini, which also appeared on a computer screen when held in front of the computer’s camera. The user could then control the car on the screen and move it around to view it from different angles, just by moving the piece of paper.
Despite being around since 1968, AR is still in its infancy in terms of its use for consumer and enterprise applications – which we will look at later on in this piece.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality differs from Augmented Reality in that VR takes over your whole vision in order to give you the impression that you are somewhere completely different – you can not only experience a simulated environment but also interact with it as well. To experience it you need to put on a VR headset, which covers your whole vision and completely opaque, so they block out your surroundings. If you use a tethered headset, such as the PlayStation VR then they use 6 degrees of freedom motion tracking (also known as 6DOF) through external sensors or cameras. What these do is to allow the headset to not only detect which direction you are facing in but also any movement you make as well. You can also use a mobile-based headset such as Google Daydream View but these are less powerful than tethered headsets, as they rely on your smartphone processing unit. They can also only track direction and not a positional movement, so they are not as immersive an experience as tethered headsets.
The history of virtual reality stretches even further back than augmented reality, with the Virtual Reality Society linking it back to Stereoscopic photos and reviewers in the late 1830s! Research at the time showed that the brain can process different 2D images from each eye into a single object of three dimensions. So, viewing two stereoscopic images side by side through a stereoscope gave the viewer not only a sense of depth but also immersion as well. The design principles of the stereoscope are still used today for the VR head-mounted displays for mobile phones. In the 1960s, research around VR moved onto immersive computer-generated worlds that users could navigate, which led onto virtual reality becoming a mainstay of popular culture in the 1990s with gaming headsets from companies such as Nintendo, and the world-famous movie ‘The Lawnmower Man’.
What are the main Differences Between AR and VR?
AR and VR, although similar in design, actually allow the user to accomplish two very different things. AR adds to your reality by projecting information onto whatever you looking at, whereas VR takes you somewhere completely different to where you are. As you can see, they are both very powerful technologies, that show a lot of promise but are still really in their infancy with many consumers.
Which Industries will Benefit most from AR?
So, now we know the difference between the two technologies, let us take a closer look at the industries in which AR may be useful for:
- Advertising – Currently AR’s biggest market, there are lots of potential applications for AR use in advertising. In April of this year, Facebook opened up its tracker based AR tool to all developers, meaning that developers can now build these experiences within Facebook. Google has also gone down this route by launching ‘Nearby’ for Android which allows you to quickly connect to Android Wear devices from your smartphone.
- Automotive Industry – If you are a car fan, then you may have heard of heads-up displays (HUDs) which is the name given to a holographic projector offering you the ability to display your speed or the distance between your vehicle and other vehicles in real time, by superimposing it over your actual road view as depicted in your mirror. This technology is currently only available on luxury models such as BMW, Lexus and Volvo, but should start trickling down to more economic models shortly, as well as even motorcycle helmets eventually.
- Food Shopping – There are apps being released at the moment, that allow customers to view information about the products in grocery stores and supermarkets, by using in-store tracking and computer vision in order to help customers to find the food and drink they need to meet their exact dietary needs.
- Smartphones – Headsets for both AR and VR have not really taken off in a big way, which means that for the foreseeable future smartphones will continue to be the way in which most people experience AR. This is good news for phone manufacturers as long as they stay ahead in the race to create phones which are better-equipped than the competition.
- Online Clothing Shopping – Perhaps the biggest opportunity for AR is in the world of retail. After all, the biggest problem for online retailers at the moment is the fact that customers cannot guarantee a good fit for what they are purchasing without trying things on. AR apps are being developed which will allow shoppers to try on clothes virtually before buying them.
Which Industries will be Affected by both AR and VR?
- Construction – Globally the construction industry turns over around $10 trillion annually while operating with the same technology for about the past 100 years! The introduction of AR and VR to the construction industry now means that project managers can track the progress of projects more efficiently, meaning they can spot where time is being inefficiently used and costs are spiralling – before the first foundation stone is even laid.
- Education – Adoption of VR and AR in education has been slower than expected but it is happening – in America and Canada mostly at the moment. Some of the uses of VR so far have been for students to experience virtual field trips without leaving the classroom, walking through the Jurassic period to learn about dinosaurs, and touring the solar system without having to go up in a space rocket. AR is actually being more used at the moment, with textbooks now being printed on clickable paper – when the accompanying app scans one of the triggers embedded in the text it will launch a new feature – such as a video or related article.
- Estate Agency – The home selling industry is particularly excited about AR and VR technology as a lot of what they do relies on the general public being able to see themselves and their family in a different environment, and both AR and VR can help with this. Many estate agents are already using VR technology to offer people guided tours of homes they might be interested in, while some are using AR technology to allow users to visualise what their furniture would look like in a property they are interested in.
- Healthcare – AR is the perfect technology for those businesses within the healthcare industry, as the healthcare industry relies on people making important decisions quickly with the available information they have. AR will allow healthcare professionals and patients to use wearables and heads-up displays to enhance the information they have available thereby allowing them to make better decisions. Virtual Reality, on the other hand, is being used in the education of future healthcare professionals allowing them to watch surgeries taking place, and also to dissect virtual cadavers as well.
- Training – VR has been used as a training tool by the aviation industry for many years, but it is now spreading to other high-risk fields as well, such as oil workers and so on, to reduce the risk of costly mistakes or injuries in such fields.
Hopefully, this article has made the differences between AR AND VR a little clearer and given you some ideas as to what uses they may have in various industries. To learn more about emerging technologies keep an eye on our blog, or on our Twitter feed.
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