What’s your reality? AR vs VR vs MR

December 12, 2017

Despite the drama of Virtual Reality’s potential, as seen in the The Matrix, few people still understand what it is or how it could change everything we do. So what is virtual reality? Does it have anything to do with augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR)? Is it good for anything other than gaming and robot domination?

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

VR is both an umbrella term and a specific experience. Virtual reality as a term denotes all experiences where technology immerses the user either partially or fully into a digital world by affecting perception and sensation. These advancements modify one’s environment, either in totality by obscuring reality or in part by projecting onto the real world. This continuum from projection to immersion of environmental modification is what differentiates VR from MR and AR.

Virtual Reality as a specific experience is the total involvement in an alternate reality. Acting like a gateway, lenses are placed over the eyes to close out the physical, real environment and open the alternate world. Devices that accomplish these immersive environments include the Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive. They are all head-mounted displays (HMD) used for gaming, but the format offers potential for other applications. An HMD uses eye tracking and motion tracking, simulating looking around and walking. Some may even be equipped with point-and-shoot capabilities, but they are not responsive.

Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality

These terms sit in the middle of the continuum, where a portion of interactions are digitally enhanced. They are mostly used interchangeably, but there are fundamental differences between them. AR more accurately describes current VR experiences while MR describes the future of VR experiences.

AR is content projected onto the real world but it remains static and doesn’t interact with the real world. An example of this is Pokémon Go. Individuals can see Pokémon in their immediate surroundings, such as a public park, but the creatures are indiscriminate in their placement. An air type might be in the middle of the fountain, which obviously doesn’t make sense. AR relies on mobile devices and applications. Google Glass was an early AR invention.

MR is content projected onto the real world and attached to it. The physical objects involved in this hybrid reality react and interact. This type of reality is harder to accomplish because there are more variables to control. A famous example of MR is Jarvis from Iron Man. Jarvis is a virtual agent AI that interfaces with Iron Man via a holographic computer system. Jarvis overlays research, plans and other information over physical objects, like projects and home structures. Despite the complexity of MR, reaching fruition is possible, especially through IoT technology. One concept of MR is a responsive smart home: when wearing a specific attachment, homeowners and residents can perceive the data being given off in the home and adjust settings using controls projected in the air by their device.

What are VR, AR, and MR for?

These technologies go beyond gaming: art, therapy, personal experiences and simulated scenarios for research. Tech creators in the field see it having potential for social good, but others worry that VR will damage society if developed unchecked. Although there is no current VR code of ethics, Thomas Metzinger — of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany who specializes in the philosophy of mind and neuroscience — has called for a global protocol in a paper co-authored with Michael Madary.

In 2015, experts had already started hypothesizing ways that VR as a technology could be used in manufacturing. Current research is determining its applicability to military endeavors, security operations and healthcare. A host of new developments and discoveries related to VR, AR and MR experiences were relayed at VR Days in Amsterdam.

Despite its versatility, augmented reality has the potential to make the biggest and quickest splash to industrial applications. Harnessed data from edge networks and cloud devices could be woven into efficient, user-friendly AR systems that speed up production and minimize risk, two primary manufacturing goals.