AR vs. VR: The Future Is Now

By Paul Maslany | June 1st, 2017

Virtual Reality, or VR, is the idea of being able to teleport yourself into another world. Yet unlike the movies, or even Imax 3D, a user would still have control of their body, and utilize almost all of their senses rather than just visual and auditory. VR is an idea that humans have fantasized about for a long time.

Growing up in the 90’s and the new millennium, I had access to 3D video games and movies like The Matrix. In the 80’s movies like Tron were popular. In 1979, The Sword of Damocles was invented, the first virtual reality and augmented reality head-mounted display system. Virtual reality devices existed even before the computer. As far back as 1962 one could enjoy an “Experience Theater” in a Sensorama, a mechanical virtual reality experience that displayed short films while engaging sight, sound, smell, and touch. It shouldn’t surprise us that in a world full of exorbitant amounts of entertainment thanks to the internet, humans have always sought ways to completely detach and escape from the real world.

However, while we always sought the ultimate, complete, virtual experience, it seems for now that the present day climate calls for mixed-reality, while the future of the technology is more heavily funded towards more virtual and less augmented. If recent sales trends continue, that paradigm may shift. Companies have found more success with a mixture of virtual and augmented reality than with either one alone, and it seems that at least for now most people will be purchasing the more affordable mixed reality devices. The popularity of augmented reality, or AR, is something I can attest to after witnessing multiple people attempt to, or in one case successfully,  walk into traffic while playing Pokemon Go on their phones or other handheld devices.

Earlier this month, Adi Robertson with The Verge reported that HoloLens creator Alex Kipman refused to call the new Windows Mixed Reality device (not the HoloLens one) a ‘VR Headset’, explaining that the terms virtual reality and augmented reality are obsolete. “These are not separate concepts. These are just labels for different points on the mixed reality continuum” he explained to the audience at a keynote.

This may be true, especially when it comes to interactive headsets and worlds in video games. However, when its comes to other applications for the technology, augmented reality might not be so involved. Take photography, or videography, where either visiting some far off place, or reliving your wedding night, are both a complete, enclosed, virtual experience.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using it for these purposes. What use will we have for movie theaters when you can actually be there on the Titanic when it goes down, or stand in between two dueling desperados at high noon in the old west. With how rapidly this technology is advancing, its hard to imagine what’s next if this is where we’re at now.

Imagine if you couldn’t make it to your sisters wedding. That’s where AR could one day come in, using the technology like that which brought Tupac back to life at Coachella, or even some of the newer hologram technology. Your family could see you in the real world, an augmented reality, with you joining them via VR tech on your end.

You could experience a live event via virtual reality, and projecting yourself as a hologram, or even an image overlaid onto what they really see, through a screen embedded into AR glasses. That’s just one application, and these examples utilize existing technologies, albeit cost and time prohibitive ones.

A true virtual reality would replicate an experience for all of your senses. Currently we have only mastered, or begun to master, sight and sound. Touch, smell, and taste, are all more difficult, and will probably come about in that order. A Cornell Research Lab is making waves with new haptic technology, adding the touch aspect into virtual reality. If this is a first sign of things to come, then it would only be a matter of time until someone master’s touch, and moves on to one of the last two senses.

For many, many years, mankind has always wondered towards the future and fantasized about its technology. Robots, flying cars, space ships, time travel, anything you could imagine. As more and more of our technology grows leaps and bounds, we find ourselves actually living during the birth of the futuristic world, and it seems to me to be more enthralling and overwhelming than I could have ever imagined!  Every day when I read about, or see, something new that amazes me I always think ‘what’s next?’ What is next? The future is next, although it seems we’re already living in it.


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