Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: what they are and how they can change our lives

Augmented reality

In the digital age the physical world is no longer enough and we are moving towards the metaverse: what virtual realities and augmented reality are and how they can change our lives

Virtual reality and augmented reality  no longer represent hypothetical futuristic scenarios. Both are already quite rooted in the daily lives of many people and are used in the most disparate sectors.

Not everyone knows what the characteristics of virtual reality and augmented reality are . Indeed, when we talk about one rather than the other, the risk is always that of confusion.

Luckily, there are categories that help you understand the actual differences between virtual reality and augmented reality. Differences which, however, from many points of view, seem exclusively conceptual.

Nowadays virtual reality and augmented reality practically go hand in hand. In some cases, they complement each other.

Precisely from their fusion, the optimal conditions arise to allow users to live incredibly immersive, detailed and satisfying experiences.

Now, more than ever, it is becoming increasingly important to know the fundamental principles of both augmented reality and virtual reality. For example, know something about their history .

Virtual reality was officially born in 1989 and began to become the protagonist of increasingly high-performance devices with the advent of the new millennium. Augmented reality has also gained ground since the 1990s, especially if it takes into account its ability to integrate with physical objects.

To frame these two realities, however, it is also important to have a clear idea of ​​what their most distinctive and important characteristics are.

In this sense, virtual reality allows you to simulate any real environment or object within a digital space. It therefore allows you to create real worlds, within which the user can experience specific perceptions.

Augmented reality instead allows you to improve environments and/or concrete objects. It enriches them through the addition of electronic information, and, in some cases, even allows the user some “intervention” options.

Having said that, knowing virtual reality and augmented reality means above all being able to understand what their present objectives and their future possibilities are .

Both of these “realities” can in fact contribute to improving people’s daily lives: both in the professional field and in terms of relaxation, free time and private life.

From this point of view, virtual reality is now ready to move away from a use limited to gaming and/or entertainment , to increasingly enter the world of training and even the medical world . Likewise, augmented reality could significantly contribute to the next mobility revolution .

  • What is meant by Virtual Realityvirtual realityThe term virtual reality, from the English virtual reality , refers to many different types of simulation that are created through computer interfaces. Virtual reality simulates the aspect of reality that surrounds the user, allowing him to live more or less interactive experiences.Virtual reality makes use of various peripherals capable of simulating an environment around the user: viewers, helmets and even smart glasses, also called smart glasses. There is also no shortage of earphones, virtual gloves and even the most recent cybersuits : highly advanced peripherals, which allow a three-dimensional scan of the user and which allow the simulation of sensory stimuli along the entire body.The first theorist of a realistic simulation experience capable of stimulating the different human senses was Morton Heilig : an American director, cameraman, photographer and inventor. In 1957 Heilig thought up a prototype called “ Sensorama ”: a mechanical device that projected highly immersive experimental films.The Sensorama allowed the reproduction of 3D images thanks to special visual cones, but not only that.The machine also featured stereophonic audio, tactile movement feedback and even a particular system for reproducing perfumes .Subsequently, the computer scientist Ivan Sutherland created the first virtual reality system with a viewer in history: it was 1968 and ” Sword of Damocles “, despite some obvious structural limitations, actually allowed you to visit three-dimensional rooms in wireframe .That said, the first virtual reality device (in the most contemporary sense of the term) is the Aspen Movie Map : a software developed by MIT in 1977, which virtually recreated the entire city of Aspen in Colorado.

    Thanks to the Aspen Movie Map , the user could walk through the city streets in both summer and winter modes: two simulations aimed at replicating pre-existing films. Alternatively, it was also possible to opt for the so-called “ polygonal mode ”, which was based on three-dimensional models.Nonetheless, the term VR (an acronym which stands for virtual reality ) was coined by Jaron Lanier more than ten years later: more precisely in 1989, while Lanier, an absolute pioneer of the field, founded his VPL Research .Since then, virtual reality has made giant strides: photorealism has become increasingly detailed and the visual experience has gradually been enriched by other sensory stimulations .The growth of virtual reality has been developed based on the close relationship between two distinct categories.The first category of development of virtual reality is ” presence ” and refers to the level of realism experienced by a subject while interacting with a virtual world. Think, in this sense, of the force of gravity applied to objects thrown into virtual environments.The second category is described with the word ” immersion ” and refers to the different engagement capabilities of a virtual environment. Immersion can mean isolation from the stimuli of the external environment, but also high activation of the user’s cognitive resources. 
  • What is meant by Augmented Realityaugmented realityWe can talk about augmented reality whenever a computer manipulates or mediates reality In most cases, the increase in reality corresponds to a perceptual enrichment provided by specific information or elements.These elements can be added by computers , smartphones , but also by many other devices related to vision, listening, manipulation: therefore glasses, earphones, gloves and so on.A perfect example of augmented reality is the one linked to the classic overlay following the framing of an object with the smartphone camera. In fact, the camera is able to recognize the object and superimpose additional information on the frame . Information that integrates with the surrounding reality, but which, at the same time, enriches it.Augmented reality presents well-defined characteristics: characteristics which, from many points of view, are very different from those typical of virtual reality.It is not always easy to understand whether mediated reality is a continuous or opposite concept to that of virtual reality. Speaking of History, both “realities” (virtual and augmented, ed.) were conceived starting from the second half of the 20th century . But not only that, in some cases their theorization has even involved the scholars themselves.

    The first work that showed a pair of augmented reality glasses was in fact presented by Ivan Sutherland himself, author of the “Sword of Damocles” virtual reality system . It was 1968 and the American computer scientist was already showing the skills that would allow him, twenty years later, to win the prestigious Turing Award. However, the vision of an augmented reality capable of integrating with electronics, portable devices and the internet has been developed especially since the 1990s.Today augmented reality is organized into certain macro-categories. The first is that of augmented reality on mobile devices and revolves around the content overlays that the smartphone camera can apply to the surrounding environment.Another type of augmented reality is that on computers and is based on markers called ARtags: when the player (in this case, the computer’s webcam) recognizes the marker, it overlays other multimedia content in real time.Finally, there is also augmented reality without markers or activators whatsoever. A scenario that allows us to imagine a much greater freedom of movement and which should allow the user to view additional virtual content a few seconds after framing any plane.At this historical moment, augmented reality is already widely used by users all over the world.Just think of the maps capable of providing information relating to hotels, restaurants, stations and points of interest. But also the possibility of finding a parked car thanks to GPS.

    Not to mention augmented reality applied to video games , as in the case of Pokemon Go: a free-to-play game based on GPS geolocation and augmented reality , which allows you to identify and capture different Pokemon (fictional animals, ed.) framing the surrounding environment with your smartphone.
  • Virtual and augmented reality: what are the differencesaugmented reality and virtual realityTalking about clear differences between virtual reality and augmented reality is not simple: both fall into the field of mediated reality,  which involves some form of external intervention on the surrounding physical world.When it comes to mediated reality, virtual reality and augmented reality are often adjacent. Indeed, sometimes they are so continuous as to be almost indistinguishable.Nonetheless, it is still possible to identify structural differences between virtual reality and augmented reality. In this sense, a good analysis method consists in analyzing the role played by the information added electronically.In the case of virtual reality , the added data is so preponderant that it replaces the normal perceptions of the human being. In fact, the user finds himself inside completely artificial scenarios , even if capable of satisfying the different senses in more or less detail.In virtual reality the digital environment completely replaces the real one.This means that a computer processes and generates everything that is experienced or perceived as real. On the contrary, in augmented reality the user continues to live immersed in a physical , tangible, real world . The additional information somehow manipulates this physical reality, which however remains preponderant at the level of experience and perceptions.Even the most profound applications of augmented reality involve a direct relationship between the user and the physical environment around him. From this point of view, it is possible to mention Pokemon Go again : an augmented reality video game that superimposes digital characters on real scenarios.Pokemon Go is a highly engaging app, which however does not “teleport” the user elsewhere. A user engaged in a game is aware of being inside the physical world, even if the environments framed by his smartphone are enriched by the presence of Pokemon ready to be captured.
  • What are the fields of applicationvirtual and augmented reality applicationVirtual reality and augmented reality are more than present in everyday reality. In both cases it is possible to identify different sectors and different fields of application that benefit from one, the other or perhaps even both.An area particularly affected by virtual reality is certainly that of gaming . On the other hand, VR offers the concrete possibility of immersing the user completely within a game.

    Manufacturers have been developing higher-level devices and software for years : physical accessories, such as viewers, earphones or gloves. But also software designed specifically to interact with one or more devices .For the rest, as it is easy to imagine, the individual company has treated the individual device based on its own philosophy and inclinations.Think of the profound difference that exists between a device like the Oculus Rift and the Toy-Con viewer developed by Nintendo. Oculus Rift is a head mounted display,  i.e. a screen “mounted” on the viewer’s head, with exceptional technical characteristics: an LCD screen enabled for 3D stereoscopy, with a field of vision of more than 90 degrees horizontal.Toy-Con, on the other hand, is a 3D viewer designed for more playful and family use. Not surprisingly, it was sold by Nintendo as part of larger kits. Kits that were created with the aim of integrating physical and virtual gaming. Kits that could be made up of both toy swords and musical instruments.Having said that, virtual reality is not just for playing games: on the contrary, it can be used to create many different types of immersive experiences . Examples of applications can be found in museums, archaeological sites, but also during events more or less linked to the hi-tech world.We now come to augmented reality , which has an equally broad spectrum of application sectors. In fact, they range from the most everyday areas to the more professionalized ones.Augmented reality can be used to better develop and manage different types of projects. This is the case, for example, of architectural constructions , which can be placed within a specific real environment.But it is also the case with broader urban plans and even the study of archaeological sites from the past. AR (an acronym that stands for ” augmented reality “, ed.) in fact allows you to generate models and compare them with each other, but also to develop 3D renderings .Augmented reality is now an integral part of both the world of commerce and marketing.It is no coincidence that it is being used more and more to smartly replace the old concepts of brochure, label and caption. AR is used both in catalogs and in manuals. In both cases, the user only has to frame the product he is interested in, to obtain all the information he needs: dimensions, price, possible shipping times, etc.But not only. A more in-depth use of augmented reality also allows us to “see” variations in real time and even apply corrective measures . Think, for example, of a particular sofa model and the possibility of observing it in different color shades.
  • How they have changed and how they will change our livesmetaverseAlready in this historical moment, virtual reality and augmented reality have demonstrated that they can have a significant impact within multiple fields of application. However, it should be remembered that both sectors are constantly growing and will, in all likelihood, benefit from the development of other contemporary technologies .Think of the infinite possibilities linked to the development of artificial intelligence , machine learning , deep learning and neural networks. Tomorrow’s computers will be able to process an impressive amount of information. But not only that: they will be able to process information to learn new concepts and use it to make autonomous decisions.Then there is the increasingly widespread diffusion of 5G networks : the new ultra-fast connections that will allow various virtual reality and/or augmented reality devices to receive increasingly complete data packets in record time.Having said that, if we talk about virtual reality , one of the most demanding future challenges is certainly that which concerns the world of health . In fact, VR devices can be used in various training and/or simulation areas, including the medical one.Not to mention the importance that virtual reality will have within the “metaverse”: a true evolution of the network, in which digital spaces will have an increasingly predominant role.If the metaverse becomes established, virtual reality could allow the user to both “go” to their digital workplace and spend free time online with loved ones.Instead, as far as augmented reality is concerned , two of the sectors to keep an eye on most are certainly automotive and mobility .In fact, there are already several augmented reality devices that make it possible to simplify the driving experience: just think of navigators and all the “additional” information they provide on the surrounding environment.In the future, however, different cars and devices could operate in a state of continuous connection . This means that the different augmented reality devices could exchange information with each other and update the user in real time.A condition that would completely revolutionize the concept of mobility as we understand it. It is no coincidence that one day the current driving assistance could transform into 100% autonomous driving by the vehicle.For the rest, the development of augmented reality will most likely play a fundamental role in the affirmation of industry 4.0 .On the other hand, the machinery of the factories of the future could also be increasingly connected to each other.In this case, a correct application of augmented reality will significantly reduce production times, optimize costs and, perhaps, even (almost) definitively eliminate the risk of error.In conclusion, both virtual reality and augmented reality could contribute to the creation of an even more fluid and interconnected world. A world in which the canonical distinction between physical and digital could lose all meaning.
  • What is extended reality, areas of applicationextended virtual realityShutterstockThe concept of extended reality is very broad and includes different levels of reality, including virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. All these realities are accessible through technological devices such as VR headsets, AR apps or holographic computers. Although they are still little known to the general public, these concepts are starting to spread and be increasingly used, especially by younger people.The best-known extended reality experience is virtual reality , which allows users to live in specially created digital environments. Within the environments created by this technology, users completely lose perception of what is next to them in real life. Physical reality is replaced by a computer-created reality. There are different levels of verisimilitude , ranging from creating very realistic environments to simulations further from reality. The level of interaction also changes depending on the device used. The most used and famous devices for this type of virtual reality are the helmet and the headset , launched for the first time on the market in the mid-90s. These are precisely the devices of the future, which will allow all future generations to access increasingly profound experiences like Zuckerberg’s MetaverseAnother area of ​​application is augmented reality , where devices aim to integrate the physical world with the digital world rather than replace it. The software that is used adds elements and enriches the environment in which the user finds himself. There are many applications, even used daily, that are based on augmented reality. Just think of apps like Snapchat, which allows users to apply particular effects starting from a real element such as a video or their own image. Another type of applications that use AR are those that deal with mobility and navigation, which mix perfectly with real elements.Finally, extended reality also includes mixed reality, i.e. a mixed reality in which the digitally reproduced environment is absolutely the same as the real one. For example, users will be able to interact with virtual elements that correspond exactly to the originals. A clear example of devices of this kind is Microsoft’s HoloLens viewer, described as a holographic computer, capable of creating real holograms. 

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