The last two years have been exciting from the perspective of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), as affordable and portable technology has started catching up with developer’s ambitious plans, some of which date back approximately forty years. In a short period of time and with the advance of technology, we have seen a number of projects getting off the ground and being pushed towards the mainstream market – such as Google Glass, Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive. Some businesses have even readily adopted augmented or virtual reality technology, for example smartphone manufacturer, OnePlus, which released its OnePlus 3 handset by first giving away the OnePlus Loop VR headset and subsequently unveiled the device via the virtual reality technology in June 2016.
Currently, there are two mainstream reality type technologies: augmented reality and virtual reality. Augmented reality is the concept behind putting virtual objects into the actual reality and offering none to limited interactivity. Depending on how the technology is implemented, this can include systems that project information from a vehicle such as speed and directions, the no expense spared smart helmet, through to the successful Pokemon GO game, which was introduced in the summer of 2016, where players must first track Pokemon using a real world map and subsequently catch them as they appear on the screen over the top of what the device camera sees. Augmented reality is an idea that appeals to some industries and services, as it can provide a representative with detailed but discrete information when helping a customer.
Virtual reality is currently considered the more immersive technology. Here, wearers of a virtual reality headset are immersed into an entirely virtual reality. Everything that is at least seen and heard by the wearer is generated by the technology. Virtual reality has captured more headlines than augmented reality because it has a more glamorous home in the entertainment market for immersive movies and video games. By creating a new reality, developers are free to recreate the rules and as technology becomes more and more sophisticated, virtual reality systems are becoming more and more encompassing. However, because these new realities can be far removed from the actual reality, VR may not actually be the most authentic of technologies.
Both AR and VR technologies are benefiting from advancements in both hardware and software. We are seeing new generations of chipset designs that are powerful enough to run the complicated software required to generate an augmented or virtual reality. The technology is also becoming smaller and more power efficient, but even so today’s wearable AR and VR systems are limited by one or more of either performance, battery life or heat output. Those headsets that are connected to a larger computer, such as a desktop, have restricted mobility compared with a portable unit. In a small number of years, we might expect smaller, lighter and massively more powerful smartphones or headsets able to handle the demands of AR or VR software.
There is a new type of alternative reality environment called “Mixed Reality,” and forward thinkers are expecting this technology to take off. Mixed Reality, or MR, is closer to current AR technology because here the developers place virtual objects into the real world. These objects, however, may be manipulated by the user. There are a great many possibilities, from creating a new workplace, entertainment and education technologies, through to interacting with a virtual character in a real environment. Mixed reality could bring documentaries, reports and documents to life, and has potential in the business and entertainment markets. However, there are considerable technical issues: mixed reality technology requires handling considerably more data than current AR or VR technologies and significantly more processing power. We are still a number of years away from having readily affordable and available mixed reality systems. However, when this day arrives, many people believe that MR technology will be even more immersive than VR.