VR, AR & MR: The Battle of Acronyms

The introduction of these new technologies have led to its confusing corresponding acronyms but fret not for it shall be explained.

What are they?

VR or Virtual Reality is a type of technology that replaces your real view with a synthesized and digital view. This simulated environment tries to recreate as many senses as possible. As of now, sight and sound have been easy to simulate and this is achieved at cheap levels as well but recreating the other senses have been a costlier and less fruitful task comparatively. Currently the gaming industry is the key consumer of virtual reality goods but it is soon expanding to other industries requiring data visualisation (architecture & weather) and to those industries where mistakes are nearly unpardonable (medicine & military).

Due to its deceiving yet fictional or intangible nature people don’t have an idea of their real surroundings or even the changes occuring in it. This could pose problems to safety and health but now VR gadgets are coming with warning signs to prevent such accidents.

AR or Augmented Reality is also a type of technology that manipulates our reality except that it morphs a digital view with our view i.e it is a mix of both. It is sort of in the middle with its feet in both worlds. Here the superimposition of images onto to the real world is harder to undertake as it has to calibrate orientation and position of both the viewer and the camera while also running its background processes. Due to this it is still in its development phase but some companies have taken steps in this direction.

MR or Mixed Reality is a cross-breed having elements of both the real and virtual world. This seems awfully close to augmented reality so one might ask what differentiates the two? As of now companies fail to realize the clear distinction between the two thus they are currently synonymous. As of now augmented reality is the favoured term.

In truth the two terms are simply sub-sections of what I call Morphed Reality. While one is bound to the real-world (i.e. mixed reality) the other simply isn’t (augmented reality). Due to this synthetic elements of mixed reality react and interact in real-time with the real elements. In augmented reality, the overlay elements don’t interact much and act simply like a layer over reality.  

What does the future hold?

As mentioned before, currently VR is used primarily in the gaming sector but as it improves (cost reduces) its application could multiply. Some of them are:

  • Education: field trips to once thought costly and faraway lands are now available at a fraction of the cost and that too with just a click of a button. This is slowly being implemented by museums. The possibility of creating a virtual environment allows not just   students but professionals to develop their skills and not have to face the consequences of failure as they would have to in the real-world.

AR too has applications in the field of education. When students wear AR lenses, items in the school can be set to AR triggerable thus the more curious students can go around school use the lenses to get a better understanding of the functioning of everyday objects.

  • Robotics: machinery can be better tele-operated (by a human from a distance) using VR, AR and AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems. The ability of telepresence (sense of being there) and telerobotics (interacting with the machinery i.e moving it) makes the possibilities endless, ranging from:
    • Teleconferencing
    • Long-distance surgery
    • Inter-galactic roving
  • Further Gaming: Arcades and VR theme parks began opening up and the trend is catching ablaze. Companies have also begun their forage into AR gaming with Pokémon Go capturing the world’s attention.
  • Tourism: VR could revolutionise the tourism sector with its advancements. If tourist hotspots agree to digitize their areas (allow it to be seamlessly viewed on a VR screen) then they could potentially make a lot of savings. These are:
    • Cutbacks on air pollution and travel
    • Longer sustenance and easier maintenance of heritage sites.
    • No accidents as there are no actual people there (thus no overcrowding too).
    • Time savings as long hours on planes and airports are cut.

AR too has its applications in tourism with QR codes and other apps providing an additional (layer of virtual) view to tourist spots.

  • Treating mental & physical problems: As mentioned before VR could be used to guide machines in completing the physical procedures. AR tools could be used in physical procedures as well. Neurosurgeons can use AR to get a visual of the brain as part of their usual view and it would save time and increase precision of the procedure.                                                                                                                 

For solving mental issues, VR is still used at a low-level but its application could blossom to solving PTSD and other stress-related disorders. Exposure therapy is used to create a past stress-inducing incident and target the source of anxiety without the intention of causing danger. Usually a successful technique, in a controlled environment like VR, it would be more effective.

Another method in the field of medical VR is empathy VR, which is basically putting yourself in the shoes of a person with some mental or physical issue. This is done to raise awareness and explain and understand the extent of some diseases.

  • Journalism: While Wall Street Journal has already begun a small VR division for journalism and reporting it could become a hit as news will become as tangible it can get. Stories will become personal and real problems will gain more heartfelt traction than ever before.
  • Communication: While some tout VR to be the downfall to face-to-face communication and communication in general, some question this claim because VR allows the boons of communication – physical collaboration and emotive expressions. This is done while adding to it not being in the same physical space rather at the comfort of one’s own home. Thus many claim VR is the next logical step in the evolution of communication.
  • Archeology & architecture: Using AR architects can build site configurations. With it, it makes the blueprint-creating process easy. AR lenses can also give a general overview of what is underground and this simplifies the archaeologist’s job of digging.
  • Everyday-use: AR could incorporate everyday apps into its lenses or other devices. This includes:
    • Music: A sound sensor and reader could help recognize background music thus acting like Shazam.
    • Translation: With AR tools signs in foreign languages can instantly be translated into preferred languages.
    • Video-conferencing: AR tools can help simulate face-to-face communication better than most video-calling apps.
    • Messaging: With AR, messages can be given the appropriate priority they deserve as the more important ones could be filtered out and shown directly to the user.
  • Military: Other than VR simulations to sharpen skills, AR could be used as an added layer of the scope to improve accuracy of the shot.
  • Repair and maintenance: With AR repair and maintenance can’t become any easier to do by yourself. With the camera pointing at the problem, AR tools can help find areas to fix or improve, then fetch appropriate prompts that experts would have told it to do and then provide a fool-proof step-by-step solution for the person.
  • Transportation: While VR provides a fictional approach to transportation, AR could develop this sector. Other than AR tools helping in navigation with its real-time views, it could also plan an optimized route (using various modes of transportation) not known to the person while also guaranteeing the person improved time of arrival as well as the directions all the way through.

What drawbacks do they have?

Despite these promising prospects VR still has a few steps to overcome before becoming the prime-engrossing technology.

  1. Health problems: VR especially has caused many known health problems like – visual abnormalities, seizures, loss of awareness, nausea, impaired hand-eye coordination and balance, fatigue, drowsiness and lightheadedness. What’s worse is that experts claim that the list goes on. Manufacturers see this thus many are pivoting to AR alternative in order to have a longer shelf life.
  2. Not enough apps – Since VR is a new industry there aren’t many popular apps for it. In addition, the lack of a monetization plan leads to lesser incentives for producers to even venture in the market. Current players in the market are also quickly losing interest so it is of utmost priority to come up with a business plan on how the sector should make money. It doesn’t matter if a solution is short-term, it just has to be gauge the interest of producers, later the business model can evolve to a long-term solution.
  3. Price: Since they all are in their development phase, prices tend to be very costly. High-end models like the Vive, Oculus Rift range from $600-$800.

The bottom line

VR, AR & MR all show great potential not just business-wise but also evolution-wise. If its drawbacks are sorted out the field could truly make wonders while also creating a domino effect of advancement in other major industries. As it develops and enters mainstream use the potential of the 3 technologies is only our imagination.

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