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Future of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

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Akshay Antony,Associate Software Engineer

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality is the computer-generated simulation or replacement of one's environment. It immerses users into a new world with 360-degree views and with no sensory input from the room your body is actually in. For example, you put on your VR set, it blocks out your worldview and substitutes with a digital world as desired for your senses. From the point of view of your brain, you are somewhere else. Its a form of mental teleportation.

Here, virtual originally means: 'being something in effect, though not really.


Origin of VR

Origin of Virtual Reality as a technology system can be traced back to 1962 when filmmaker Morton Heilig created Sensorama. It was a closed cabinet with a 3D display, vibrating seat, stereo sound, fan wind producer etc. One of the examples of such times was a film in which a guy riding a motorcycle down the streets of a city. The viewer could have a 3D view of their streets, with the wind blowing on their faces, simultaneously feeling the vibration of the motorcycle and even experiencing the smells of the city.

MIT computer scientist Ivan Sutherland is considered as the godfather of VR displays. In 1968, he created the sword of Damocles, the first VR headset.

Virtual Reality is an approximation of our reality that is digital but not reality itself. Since its origin, it has existed largely in university research labs and was used for understanding the limits of brain perception systems. Virtual Reality failed to hit the consumer market in the past as the technology was just not there, and the threshold for building convincing headsets was too high.

Currently, Virtual Reality is quickly becoming extremely relevant to gamers, architects, and realistic agents, teachers, students, astronauts etc.


What is Augmented Reality?

AR, also known as Mixed Reality is a different phase from the VR. This is because its main purpose is not to cut out the real world and transport it to another one, rather it is to be an enhancement of your real world with a set of magical virtual objects in it.

When a person's real environment is supplemented or augmented with computer-generated images, usually motion tracked, then that's Augmented Reality. So if you had played Pokemon Go, then that was AR, or have used Snapchat face filters, then you have already used primitive forms of Augmented Reality. 

Augmented Reality is a combination of actual reality - your real-world surroundings and virtual additions to the world. It's adding information to the world around you and when executed out at its best, you are able to interact with all of it in a very human way. Google glasses are an example of AR. When it comes to gaming, AR allows you to actually play with other people, because you can see and interact with them.

The Goal of VR is to make the users feel they are in another place. In contrast to this, Augmented Reality adds a digital edition to the user's world. For example, objects can appear on tables, information can be displayed on floating windows etc. Many people think this technology will fade out like previous technologies in 80's and 90, but the thing to know here is the underlying technology is vastly more powerful this time around and is very much feasible.


The AR-VR debate

Microsoft Hololens is a holographic computer. It is an Augmented Reality device. It’s a head-mounted PC based on Windows 10, that is worn over the head.  It enables to bring digital world into the real world. It matches your surroundings and understands the surfaces in the rooms that you occupy. It then lets you occupy 3D holographic images and place them onto the surfaces, giving you the sense of mixed reality. Hololens may be very much useful in gaming, crime investigation, mining etc in the future.

Medical students find fresh ways of learning by being able to see the live human anatomy in front of their eyes. By using AR, we can analyze a full human body, we can see muscles on top of the skeleton, and also bring it in and out, and have a 360-degree view. For example, for a medical student to study how Cardiac Anatomy works, he could actually see the working of heart in front of him using this glass, which may not be possible otherwise with an actual human heart. Also, AR and VR can bring new ideas of patient diagnosis and therapy.

VR ignores the real world and transports you somewhere else entirely. It immerses you fully in a virtual world that you can interact with. Users are impressed as they feel like they are in entirely different space. There are limitations of not being aware of your surroundings. It’s a very singular experience. And you have to be in a controlled environment, so you don't hurt yourself by trying to move around in the real world, thinking you are in the virtual one.

To combine AR and VR into one immersive experience, users begin with the view of their surroundings, when a particular product or image is recognized, users can interact with it or are transported to it, 360-degree video environment.


Recent Improvements

In 2016, Pokemon Go game was released and was highly attracting people around the world. The objective of players was to wander around the world searching for monster or cartoon characters and to capture their images using their cameras. Rabbit ear and other virtual makeups in Snapchat are other examples.

Another technology was Google’s Tango which also came out in 2016. Here, it was able to detect the shape of the world around it by making use of infra-red detectors, wide angle lens etc. Tango is able to make a 3D image of its surroundings, and the user could move around the image to see the whole 360-degree view.


Market of AR and VR

Hearing a lot about AR and VR, and its wide range of applications, people expect a lot from these technologies. Its failures in the past point out that people’s expectation of necessary services were not provided. While our smartphones, which we can easily carry in our pockets, provide us most of the functionalities, people using new technologies should feel that new technology is better than the existing technology.

This may be the reason why Google glasses introduced in 2013, didn’t hit the markets. These glasses, which can capture images instantly, and could browse useful information from the internet, but had the extra overhead of carrying these bigger size glasses, when our smartphones already have alternatives for doing the same. VR and AR require high levels of GPU and also stronger CPU and storage spaces. Its high cost was one another major problem.

On the other hand, Hololens introduced by Microsoft was able to showcase its value that it brings to its user, and so hit the market. AR could eventually replace the smartphones if it can provide more mobility than smartphones in the future. It should also contain extremely high battery life, and should also be able to provide equal or higher quality of services compared to smartphones and finally, with advancements in manufacturing, its cost should also reduce.

AR and VR devices are not that convenient for users to carry around them easily. So it should be able to perform multi-purpose tasks, for it to replace the devices in the workplace. Focusing on a single function such as playing games won’t do any good.

In addition to providing the massive immersive experiences to users, it should also be comfortable for users to wear it and carry it around for its success in the coming years.

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