An Introduction to Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality

Despite their similarities, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) are distinct technologies with distinct differences, driving factors, and application cases. Virtual Reality is a fully immersive experience, cutting off the user from their current environment and placing them in a virtual world. Augmented Reality mixes the virtual world with the real world, allowing users to interact with elements of the virtual world as if they were in their actual environment. Mixed Reality blends the virtual and augmented reality worlds, allowing for a deeper level of interaction between the two. Each of these technologies have different driving factors, such as the need for more interactive experiences, the need to create more realistic simulations, and the need to create a more efficient workflow. Additionally, each of these technologies have different application cases, such as with gaming, entertainment, medical simulations, and training.

Throughout the years, the evolution of technology has been remarkable and remarkable. From the days of View-Master’s cardboard discs, which contained seven stereoscopic 3D pairs of miniature colour images, to the modern Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies, the advancements made have been extraordinary. This is largely due to the significant investments that companies like Facebook, Google, Samsung, and many more have made, betting on high-value returns. As a result, it is now becoming increasingly common to see virtual and augmented reality featured in our news feeds.

In this post, we will explore the distinctions between Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), with a retrospective look at how VR/AR have evolved over time. We will then examine their current role in our lives and consider their potential implications for the future.

What Exactly Is Virtual Reality (VR)?

Virtual Reality (VR) is an immersive and simulated experience that is projected into the user’s visual field with the help of a specialised device. Visualise the possibility of experiencing the Champs-Elisée in Paris, while simply being in your basement in San Francisco. This can be made possible with the use of a headset with a viewfinder, which can transport you into a realistic virtual world. In addition to this, there is much more that can be explored with the use of Virtual Reality.

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

Many of us may remember the thrill and excitement of using Mattel’s View-Master, which was first introduced in the 1960s. Nowadays, virtual reality (VR) offers a similar stereoscopic sightseeing experience with the help of a set of lenses placed inside a viewport on a headset, together with a connected device that records or processes the experience.

The breadth of Virtual Reality (VR) functionalities is contingent on the equipment and head-mounted display (HMD) being used. These functionalities range from passive observation to full immersion. Using a remote control and the accompanying HMD, users have the capacity to interact with three-dimensional objects within their experience, be it for VR gaming or for the utilisation of virtual interfaces and applications.

A Brief History of Virtual Reality and Its Evolution Over Time

A review of the history of virtual reality (VR) reveals that it can be traced back to the eighteenth century with the advent of 360-degree murals or panoramic paintings. As noted by the Virtual Reality Society, this marks the dawn of VR’s pursuit of an immersive 360° experience. Subsequent advancements have propelled this form of technology forward, such as the introduction of a flight simulator in 1929 and the first Virtual Reality Head Mounted Display (HMD) by Morton Heilig in 1960. Fast-forward to 1999, and the iconic scene from The Matrix where Neo sees the world as a simulation is a testament to how far this technology has come.

Which Companies Are Currently Leading the VR Market?

In 2014, Google made a breakthrough in the world of virtual reality with the introduction of Google Cardboard. This low-cost, DIY device used a smartphone to deliver an immersive virtual reality experience to a mass audience. The following year, Samsung released their own version of a virtual reality headset, the GearVR, initiating a competitive landscape in the VR industry. Then, in June 2014, Oculus VR was acquired by Facebook, signalling a major push by the company to make a name for itself in the high-end VR sector.

What Exactly Is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented Reality (AR) technology enhances our experience of the world by superimposing computer-generated visuals, images, or interactive data on our view of the physical environment. AR enables us to interact with virtual objects and information in the real world, providing a unique and highly immersive way of interacting with our environment.

How Does Augmented Reality Work?

Augmented Reality (AR) now requires only a smartphone equipped with a camera and a compatible AR application. The camera’s ability to capture the environment around the user as they move, combined with software that calculates and projects computer-generated graphics or material, are two essential components that enable its operation.

IKEA’s recently released augmented reality (AR) software is an excellent example of how technology can be used to visualise how any area could look with its furniture. This state-of-the-art software allows any individual to gain a realistic impression of how their room or space could be enhanced with IKEA’s products.

The utilisation of augmented reality (AR) in the generation of life-scale items in real-world situations is a novel concept that could prove highly beneficial for designers and architects. As Michael Valdsgaard, Leader of Digital Transformation at Inter IKEA Systems, stated, “Technology has now caught up with our desire. AR allows us to revolutionise the experience for furniture retail, ultimately helping us meet our goal of creating a better daily living for everyone, everywhere.”

AR’s Brief History

For many years, Augmented Reality (AR) has been part of popular science fiction. However, the technology has progressed beyond fiction and is now being used in various applications. For example, in 1998, AR was used to introduce the first virtual yellow line marker during a live NFL game. Additionally, AR technology is being employed by NASA to provide map data for their flight simulations.

In 1974, Myron Kruger paved the way for what we now know as augmented reality when he employed projectors and video cameras in a dynamic setting. His groundbreaking work has had a lasting influence on the development of augmented reality technology.

At the 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) held by Apple, the company presented ARKit – a software development platform tailored to enable the development of augmented reality (AR) applications for iPhones and iPads. ARKit has enabled developers to create a wide range of innovative AR experiences for iOS users.

ARkit vs. ARCore: The Battle for AR Dominance Between Apple and Google

Apple’s ARKit for iOS 11 has been developed with the intention of providing access to augmented reality content to a wider audience. This is a direct response to Google’s ARCore, which benefits from the experience gained in the virtual reality industry. Both AR design and development frameworks have been designed to simplify and expedite the creative process, providing the opportunity for millions of Android and iOS users to get involved with the technology.

Given that augmented reality applications are still in their early stages in the mainstream market, it is difficult to assess the degree to which their development kits differ from one another, apart from the fact that they are designed for specific operating systems and target audiences.

With Apple and Android, two of the most influential technology companies in the world, controlling a staggering 99% of the global smartphone market, their recent public endorsement of augmented reality (AR) technology has opened the door to a new era of transformation across multiple sectors. It is likely that, through the application of AR, businesses and industries will experience significant changes as they look to capitalise on the opportunities that this powerful technology offers.

What about MR (Mixed Reality)?

Mixed reality is the combination of virtual reality and augmented reality, which seeks to provide the best of both worlds. For instance, mixed reality utilises headgear similar to that employed by virtual reality, however, instead of looking through a transparent viewport or glass, it projects graphics onto our existing environment.

Mixed Reality (MR) stands out due to its highly interactive nature, which allows for a more realistic representation of the environment around us. Rather than relying solely on controllers or phone displays, we are able to interact with the immersive material through natural body and finger movements. This provides an engaging and lifelike experience that is not possible with other forms of media.

Although Apple and Google are undoubtedly at the forefront of Augmented Reality (AR) technology, the current Mixed Reality (MR) landscape appears to be favouring Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap, which has been heavily financed thus far and is currently just a concept demonstration.

Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap: The King and Queen of Mixed Reality

HoloLens by Microsoft

In spite of the lack of success for Google Glass, Microsoft still decided to continue developing their own Mixed Reality (MR) device, dubbed the HoloLens. This revolutionary device allows users to interact with digital information and holograms in their surroundings for an immersive and unique experience.

The Magic Leap

Magic Leap, a company backed by Google, is one of the most highly-funded pre-product firms in the tech industry, and is also one of the most clandestine undertakings to date. Rony Abovitz, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Magic Leap, has described the venture as “cinematic reality—a revolutionary change in visual computing.” This mixed-reality technology business is tackling the challenge of designing for interactive environments through the amalgamation of the most cutting-edge virtual and augmented reality technologies.

The use of Dynamic Digitised Lightfield Signal in the holographic glasses enables the projection of images directly into the eye, creating a realistic and convincing experience for the brain. This advanced technology provides a far more immersive experience than traditional methods.

How Are Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality Changing the Way We See and Experience the World?

Virtual Reality for Entertainment and Mass Media Consumption

The entertainment industry has been one of the primary beneficiaries of the emergence of virtual reality. A prime example of the successful implementation and integration of virtual reality is the Lego Star Wars 360 Experience, which has enabled viewers to experience stories in an entirely new way.

Facebook is making a concerted effort to make virtual reality (VR) technology more accessible to the public by releasing their first standalone VR headset. This headset does not require a phone or computer to be connected in order to function, thus making the technology more accessible and user-friendly.

Almost overnight, augmented reality reinvents Nintendo, a century-old company

In 2016, the release of Pokemon Go provided the public with an initial insight into how augmented reality (AR) could have an influence on our daily lives. By allowing tiny monsters to appear and disappear on the screens of our smartphones, augmented reality gave us a glimpse of what it would be like to have our reality ‘enhanced’ by virtual objects.

Reality Mix. Combined Reality? Mixed emotions

With ambiguous differences from its relatives VR and AR, mixed reality is struggling to define its future.

Mixed Reality (MR) technology is comparable to Virtual Reality (VR) in that it requires the use of a headset. However, MR devices differ from traditional VR technology in that they employ the use of transparent glasses, such as Google Glass, that enable users to remain connected to their physical environment while simultaneously incorporating virtual reality components. In this way, MR technology provides an immersive experience that synthesises the physical and virtual worlds.

Mixed Reality (MR) is a technology that builds upon the concepts of Augmented Reality (AR), providing a more immersive and interactive experience. MR allows users to interact with a digital simulation in ways that AR cannot currently facilitate, such as through physical engagement and through the use of remote controls. This provides a more interactive connection with the environment than what is achievable through a phone’s screen alone.

In Numbers: The VR, AR, and MR Landscape

Financial traction will be a critical sign of both technical and experience traction in order to truly build up and gain broader acceptance.

With an estimated $2 billion in venture capital raised to date, Magic Leap is at the forefront of the augmented and mixed reality investment sphere, backed by prominent investors such as Google Ventures, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Alibaba Group, and Andreessen Horowitz.

Let’s have a look at the main investments made in prominent VR/AR firms in the industry today.

Design Considerations for Emerging Reality

Designing for virtual (VR), augmented (AR), and mixed (MR) reality is comparable to the process of manifesting novel realities. This novel approach of creating immersive and multidimensional content necessitates the adoption of new standards and considerations. To successfully achieve this, professionals with a wide variety of skillsets must be employed, including those with expertise in 3D and UI visual design as well as experience design with regards to UX and product.

When it comes to creating artwork beyond the conventional two-dimensional, rectangular canvas, creative professionals have a vast array of possibilities to explore. This involves a comprehensive understanding of human anatomy, the ability to empathise with the subject, knowledge of sound and visual design, and a wide range of other areas.

Visual Design and 3D

When designing immersive experiences and interfaces for virtual reality, designers must take a completely different approach and set of tools. Rather than envisioning their creative canvas as a traditional two-dimensional screen or rectangle, they must instead conceive of it as a boundless 360-degree environment. This requires a shift in mindset that calls for innovative methods and techniques to craft an interactive, holistic 3D experience.

Due to the complexities of designing virtual reality experiences, it would be beneficial for virtual reality designers to collaborate with professionals who specialise in three-dimensional graphics, as well as to gain an elementary understanding of WebGL and other open-source technologies. This will enable them to create more engaging and realistic virtual reality experiences.

The following are examples of popular 3D creating software:

Scale and Positioning Concepts

The size and positioning of elements in virtual and augmented reality design are closely connected and have a significant effect on each other. Specifically, the distance between an object and the viewer has an impact on the readability of the item, as well as its potential interactivity. Additionally, the size of an element within a virtual environment can reflect how large or small, and how far or near, it would be in reality.

Movement and tracking

The concept of motion tracking is connected to the technology and software used in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. Google Cardboard utilises the phone’s accelerometer to provide basic motion tracking; however, more advanced options are available with the current Google Daydream VR headgear, which includes a remote controller that enables users to interact with and point at items within the virtual environment.

Immersive technologies such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer users a more responsive motion tracking system and interactive controllers, allowing them to experience an enhanced level of realism in their virtual reality experience. These technologies provide users with a heightened level of engagement, allowing them to interact with their environment in a more immersive and responsive manner.

Creating motion trackers and controllers necessitates a deep understanding of authentic human movement and physical capability. Ensuring this is properly accomplished will increase the sensation of immersion in the experience.

Taking Inspiration from More Traditional Disciplines

When designing for Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality, there is no need to start from scratch. We can take many ideas and principles from more traditional creative outlets, just as we did when transitioning from print media to digital. This approach allows us to build upon existing methods and ensures that our work is grounded in tried and tested methods.

As the technology landscape continues to evolve, the fundamentals of visual arts remain applicable. Colour theory, composition standards, and lighting best practices are just a few of the concepts that may be utilised when designing for the new virtual worlds we are creating. This is because, although the medium is different, our aim is still to replicate and experience the real world in a different context.

Principles of Animation and Transition

It is no surprise that the 12 Principles of Animation, created by the renowned Walt Disney, can drastically improve the credibility of transition effects and movement in virtual reality. These principles are essential to achieving a professional and realistic look and feel, and so it is worth exploring them further. Let us take a brief look at each principle and how it can be applied to virtual reality:

  1. Squash and Stretch: Extending and contracting an item in order to represent weight and volume in motion.
  2. Anticipation: A sign that a significant activity is about to occur.
  3. Staging: Having a defined purpose throughout an object’s state/position.
  4. Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose: First define the start and finish states, then fill in the gaps.
  5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action: When multiple moving parts come to a halt, they do not all come to a halt at the same time.
  6. Slow-in and slow-out: Also known as the easing effect – moving slowly, then quickly, then slowly.
  7. Arc: Simply said, providing some curviness to most actions.
  8. Secondary Activity: Adding to or supplementing a main action.
  9. Timing Use of speed or delay to imitate physics or time scale.
  10. Exaggeration: Practice of emphasising certain motions in order to accentuate something.
  11. Solid drawings: Making objects seem more three-dimensional
  12. Appeal: This idea requires interesting and engaging traits.

Resources and Tools

Many companies have been making their design and development frameworks available to the public in order to empower individuals and promote a collaborative environment. If you’re interested in exploring virtual, augmented, and mixed reality, here are some excellent resources to help you get started:

Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality’s Future

When we consider the astonishing level of international acceptance of the Pokemon Go craze, augmented reality has demonstrated a tremendous rate of adoption. To enjoy the benefits of augmented reality today, all one needs is a smartphone with an up-to-date operating system, a good camera, and an AR app – there is no need to acquire any additional hardware or software, and the entire world is our playground.

Apple’s continued commitment to augmented reality has been made clear with their latest venture, and CEO Tim Cook has shared his thoughts on the subject. In a recent statement, Cook noted, “Although virtual reality has some niche applications, I believe that augmented reality is the more powerful technology.” With this latest foray into the augmented reality game, Apple is likely to further promote the growing trend of augmented reality.

Despite having been around for longer than augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR) appears to have difficulty gaining traction due to the high initial cost to obtain a quality VR headset, the physical discomfort often associated with extended usage, and a lack of clearly defined uses for the technology.

The frequent query of “How does virtual reality work?” is frequently posed both in online conversations and at virtual reality events. Nevertheless, virtual reality is only one of a multitude of technologies that industries are utilising to create new opportunities. Particularly, the automotive industry is taking advantage of the fascinating potential offered by virtual reality in order to innovate and progress.

Finally, Mixed Reality is the perfect amalgamation of Actual, Augmented, and Virtual Reality, unlocking boundless potential. According to Joerg Tewes, CEO of Avegant, this new technology enables designers and engineers to edit 3D models with their own hands, rather than having to rely on the traditional screens and keyboards. This connection with our thoughts, he says, is what makes Mixed Reality so powerful.

The world is on the brink of a revolutionary transformation as it ventures into the realm of immersive 3D content and digital environments. This presents a unique opportunity for designers, engineers, and businesses to become part of this remarkable change. It is a chance that comes around only once in a lifetime and should be taken advantage of.

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