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

Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are often spoken about together, but it’s important to note their differences, unique features, and areas of use. VR transports the user completely to a virtual world, offering an all-encompassing experience detached from the real world. AR fuses virtual elements with the real world, creating an environment where users can interact with real and virtual elements at the same time. MR blends both types of realities, offering a seamless interaction between them. They are driven by varying factors, ranging from the desire for more immersive experiences to the need to create effective simulations and workflows. These technologies are applicable for various purposes, such as entertainment, gaming, medical simulations, and training.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed a remarkable evolution in technology, especially in how we experience depth and interaction. With View-Master’s cardboard discs that had miniature 3D images, to today’s Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies, the progress has been phenomenal. The continued support of high-value returns by major companies like Samsung, Google, Facebook and many more has been instrumental in pushing technological advancements. As a result, virtual and augmented reality features are becoming more common in our daily news feeds.

This article seeks to differentiate between Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), examining the pivotal points in their timelines. We will proceed to explore their current application and evaluate their potential impact in the future.

Understanding Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulated experience that immerses users into an alternate world by projecting it into their visual field through the use of a specialized device. Imagine being in San Francisco and touring the Champs-Élysées in Paris virtually – this is the kind of experience afforded by a VR headset which transports users to highly realistic virtual worlds. There are also many other possibilities that VR technology offers and can be explored.

Working Principles of Virtual Reality

Mattel’s View-Master, which gained popularity in the 1960s, was often an exciting and thrilling experience for many. In recent times, virtual reality (VR) offers a similar sightseeing adventure that involves the use of a set of lenses situated in a viewport of a headset, along with a device that records or processes the virtual experience.

The extent of Virtual Reality (VR) features depends on the equipment and head-mounted display (HMD) in use, which can vary from passive observation to complete immersion. With an accompanying HMD and remote control, users have the ability to interact with three-dimensional objects within their experience, whether in VR gaming or utilizing virtual applications and interfaces.

A Quick History of Virtual Reality and Its Evolution

Virtual Reality’s (VR) history can be traced back to the eighteenth century when 360-degree murals and panoramic paintings were created. These marked the beginning of the search for an immersive 360° experience in VR, as noted by the Virtual Reality Society. The technology has since made significant strides, such as the introduction of a flight simulator in 1929 and Morton Heilig’s invention of the first VR Head Mounted Display (HMD) in 1960. The Matrix movie’s iconic scene, released in 1999, demonstrates the extent to which VR technology has advanced.

Leading Companies in the Current VR Market

In 2014, Google made a significant accomplishment in the virtual reality world with the development of Google Cardboard, a low-cost, DIY device that utilized a smartphone to provide a mass audience with an immersive virtual reality experience. In the same year, Samsung implemented their take on the virtual reality headset, GearVR, leading to a surge of competition in the VR field. Furthermore, Facebook acquired Oculus VR in June 2014, indicating the company’s eagerness to make a name for itself in the high-end VR industry sector.

Understanding Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality (AR) technology enriches our perception of the world by overlaying computer-generated visuals, images, or interactive data on our real-life environment. This allows for interaction with virtual objects and information in reality and provides an innovative and immersive way of engaging with our surroundings.

Working Principles of Augmented Reality

Nowadays, Augmented Reality (AR) only needs a smartphone equipped with a camera and an appropriate AR application. Two crucial components that enable its operation are the camera’s ability to capture the user’s surroundings as they move and software that computes and enables projection of computer-generated graphics or materials.

A recent example of how technology can be employed to provide an augmented reality (AR) experience is IKEA’s new software that visualizes how an area would look with its furniture. This cutting-edge software now enables anyone to acquire a vivid idea of how their room or space could be improved with IKEA’s products.

The use of augmented reality (AR) to generate life-size objects in real-world scenarios is a novel concept that could significantly benefit architects and designers. According to Michael Valdsgaard, Leader of Digital Transformation at Inter IKEA Systems, “Our desire has finally caught up with technology. AR makes it possible to revolutionise the furniture retail experience and ultimately helps us achieve our aim of improving daily life for everyone, everywhere.”

A Brief History of Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality (AR) has long been envisioned as a component of popular science fiction. Nevertheless, the technology has transcended fiction and is now utilized in various applications. In 1998, AR was introduced to the public by implementing the first virtual yellow line marker during a live NFL game. AR technology is also being harnessed by NASA to supply map data for their flight simulations.

Myron Kruger was a pioneer of augmented reality technology when he first utilized projectors and video cameras in a dynamic setting in 1974. His innovative work has had a profound and long-lasting impact on the advancement of augmented reality.

Apple introduced ARKit, a software development platform crafted to facilitate the creation of augmented reality (AR) apps for iPhones and iPads, at the 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). This platform enables developers to design various ingenious AR experiences for iOS users.

ARKit vs ARCore: The Competition for AR Supremacy Between Google and Apple

Apple’s ARKit, designed for iOS 11, aims to make augmented reality content accessible to a broader audience. This is a direct response to Google’s ARCore, which benefits from experience gained in the virtual reality industry. Both AR frameworks have been crafted to streamline and accelerate the creative process, bringing the opportunity for millions of Android and iOS users to engage with this technology.

As augmented reality apps are still in their early stages in the mainstream market, it is challenging to evaluate how their development kits vary, except for the fact that they are tailored for specific operating systems and target users.

Two of the most influential technology companies in the world, Apple and Android, have an astonishing 99% control of the global smartphone market. Their recent public promotion of augmented reality (AR) technology heralds a new era of transformation across multiple sectors. Businesses and industries are likely to witness significant changes through the application of AR as they strive to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this powerful technology.

What about Mixed Reality (MR)?

Mixed reality is a fusion of virtual and augmented reality designed to provide the best of both worlds. Mixed reality uses headgear similar to that of virtual reality. However, instead of viewing through a transparent viewport or glass, it projects graphics onto our current environment.

What distinguishes Mixed Reality (MR) is its highly interactive nature that enables a more realistic representation of the environment. Instead of relying solely on controllers or phone displays, we can interact with the immersive content through natural body and finger movements. This creates a captivating and authentic experience that cannot be replicated through other forms of media.

While Apple and Google are unquestionably leaders in Augmented Reality (AR) technology, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap seem to be the main players in the current Mixed Reality (MR) arena. Magic Leap has been strongly funded up until now but is currently only a conceptual demonstration.

Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap: The Top Contenders in Mixed Reality

Microsoft’s HoloLens

Despite Google Glass’s lack of success, Microsoft persevered in developing their own Mixed Reality (MR) device, known as HoloLens. This ground-breaking device enables users to engage with digital information and holograms in their environment, resulting in an immersive and unparalleled experience.

Magic Leap

Magic Leap, a tech firm supported by Google, is among the most heavily financed pre-product companies in the industry and also one of the most secretive endeavours to date. Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), has dubbed it “cinematic reality – a revolutionary shift in visual computing.” This mixed-reality technology company is addressing the challenge of creating interactive environments by combining the most advanced virtual and augmented reality technologies.

The use of Dynamic Digitised Lightfield Signal in these holographic glasses results in images being projected directly into the eye, producing a realistic and compelling experience for the brain. This advanced technology offers a significantly more immersive experience than conventional methods.

What Impact are Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality Having on Our Perspective and Experience of the World?

Entertainment and Mass Media Consumption with Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has been notably advantageous to the entertainment industry. An exemplary instance of virtual reality’s successful implementation and integration is the Lego Star Wars 360 Experience, which offers viewers an entirely novel way to experience stories.

Facebook is taking deliberate steps to broaden public access to virtual reality (VR) technology by launching their first-ever standalone VR headset. The headset is not dependent on a phone or computer for operation, making the technology more accessible and user-friendly.

Nintendo, a Century-Old Company, Rapidly Transformed by Augmented Reality

The release of Pokemon Go in 2016 provided the public with a first glimpse of how augmented reality (AR) could impact our daily lives. Through displaying tiny monsters on the screens of our smartphones, augmented reality offered us a glimpse of how virtual objects could ‘enhance’ our reality.

Reality Mix: Mixed Emotions Raised by Combined Reality

Mixed reality is encountering difficulties in defining its future due to its hazy distinctions from virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Mixed Reality (MR) technology shares similarities with Virtual Reality (VR) in that it necessitates the use of a headset. Nevertheless, MR devices are distinct from traditional VR technology in that they use transparent glasses, such as Google Glass, which enable users to remain engaged with their physical surroundings while simultaneously integrating virtual reality components. In this manner, MR technology offers an immersive experience that combines the physical and virtual worlds.

Mixed Reality (MR) is an extension of Augmented Reality (AR), supplying a more immersive and interactive experience. Unlike AR, MR enables users to physically engage with digital simulations and interact with them through remote controls, leading to a more interactive rapport with the surroundings than what is possible with just a phone’s screen.

The VR, AR, and MR Landscape in Numbers

To attain broader acceptance, financial traction will serve as a crucial indicator of both technical and experiential traction, making it important to build up.

Backed by renowned investors such as Google Ventures, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Alibaba Group, and Andreessen Horowitz, Magic Leap takes the lead in the investment arena for mixed and augmented reality, with an approximate of $2 billion in venture capital raised to date.

Presently, it is important to examine the principal investments made in distinguished firms involved in the VR/AR industry.

Factors to Consider in Designing for Emerging Reality

Creating immersive and multidimensional content for virtual (VR), augmented (AR), and mixed (MR) reality is akin to fabricating novel realities. To accomplish this successfully, novel standards and considerations need to be implemented. This can be achieved by acquiring the skills of experts across various fields, including those who specialize in 3D and UI visual design, as well as those experienced in experience design, UX, and product.

Crafting artwork beyond the conventional two-dimensional, rectangular canvas offers creative professionals a wealth of options to delve into. This requires an all-encompassing comprehension of human anatomy, the capacity to empathise with the subject, familiarity with sound and visual design, and aptitude in a variety of other fields.

3D and Visual Design

In designing immersive experiences and interfaces for virtual reality, designers must use a completely different set of tools and approach. Instead of visualizing their creative canvas as a conventional two-dimensional screen or rectangle, they must think of it as an endless 360-degree environment. This entails a mindset shift that necessitates innovative methods and techniques to develop an interactive, all-encompassing 3D experience.

Given the intricacies involved in designing virtual reality experiences, partnering with three-dimensional graphics specialists and gaining a fundamental understanding of WebGL and other open-source technologies will be advantageous for virtual reality designers. Such individuals can help create more realistic and captivating virtual reality experiences.

Outlined below are a few examples of widely-used 3D creation software:

Positioning and Scale Concepts

In virtual and augmented reality design, the size and positioning of elements are interconnected and have a notable impact on one another. Specifically, the distance between an object and the viewer affects the legibility of the object as well as its capacity for interactivity. Additionally, the size of an element within a virtual environment can represent its true-to-life size and distance.

Tracking and Movement

Motion tracking is a concept closely associated with software and technology used in augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. Google Cardboard employs the phone’s accelerometer for rudimentary motion tracking, but the current Google Daydream VR headset provides more sophisticated options. It comes with a remote controller that allows users to interact with and point to elements in the virtual environment.

Virtual reality technologies like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive provide users with a more sensitive motion tracking system and interactive controllers that enable them to achieve a higher degree of realism in their virtual reality experience. With such technologies, users can participate more extensively and interact more responsively with their environment, resulting in a more immersive and engaging experience.

Developing motion trackers and controllers demands a thorough understanding of realistic human movement and physical abilities. This ensures a heightened sense of immersion in the experience.

Drawing Inspiration from Conventional Disciplines

Designing for Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality doesn’t require starting from scratch. Just as we did when transitioning from print media to digital, many ideas and principles can be taken from more traditional creative outlets. This approach enables us to build upon existing methods and ensures that our work is based on tested and proven approaches.

As technology advances, the foundations of visual arts stay relevant. When designing for the new virtual worlds we create, principles such as colour theory, composition standards, and lighting best practices remain useful. This is because, although the medium differs, our objective remains to reproduce and encounter the real world in a unique environment.

Animation and Transition Principles

Notably, the 12 Principles of Animation introduced by the celebrated Walt Disney can significantly enhance the believability of transition effects and movement in virtual reality. These principles are critical to achieving a polished and realistic appearance and are therefore worth examining further. Here is a quick overview of each principle and how it can be implemented in virtual reality:

  1. Squash and Stretch:

    Enlarging and compressing an object to convey weight and volume in motion.
  2. Anticipation:

    A cue indicating that a significant movement is imminent.
  3. Staging:

    Maintaining a clear intention for an object’s state or position throughout.
  4. Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose:

    Initially determining the beginning and ending states, followed by filling in the intermediary steps.
  5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action:

    When multiple moving parts stop, they do not cease movement simultaneously.
  6. Slow-in and slow-out:

    Commonly referred to as the easing effect, it entails starting slow, speeding up, then slowing down again.
  7. Arc:

    In essence, incorporating curvature into most movements.
  8. Secondary Activity:

    Incorporating additional actions to enhance or supplement the main one.
  9. Timing:

    Employing speed or delay to simulate the laws of physics or passage of time.
  10. Exaggeration:

    Emphasizing specific movements to highlight or underscore something.
  11. Solid drawings:

    Creating a sense of depth for objects to appear more three-dimensional.
  12. Appeal:

    This notion necessitates intriguing and captivating qualities.

Tools and Resources

Numerous companies have made their design and development frameworks publicly accessible to encourage collaboration and empower individuals. If you want to delve into virtual, augmented, and mixed reality, here are some exceptional resources to assist you in getting started:

The Future of Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality

The tremendous international popularity of the Pokemon Go craze is a testament to the astounding level of adoption that augmented reality has achieved. Today, to reap the benefits of augmented reality, all you need is a smartphone with a current operating system, a quality camera, and an AR app – there is no requirement to purchase extra hardware or software, and the entire world can be our playground.

Apple’s latest venture highlights their continued dedication to augmented reality, and CEO Tim Cook has expressed his opinions on the matter. In a recent statement, Cook stated that “while virtual reality has some limited uses, I believe that augmented reality is the more potent technology.” With this new entry into the augmented reality market, Apple is poised to stimulate the growing trend of augmented reality.

Although virtual reality (VR) has been in existence for longer than augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), it appears to have difficulty gaining widespread acceptance due to the high initial cost of purchasing a high-quality VR headset, the physical discomfort that is often associated with prolonged use, and a lack of clearly defined applications for the technology.

Both online conversations and virtual reality events often feature the common question, “How does virtual reality work?” However, virtual reality is only one of many technologies being used by industries to generate new opportunities. Specifically, the automotive industry is leveraging the exciting potential provided by virtual reality to innovate and advance.

Mixed Reality is the ideal fusion of Actual, Augmented, and Virtual Reality, unleashing limitless potential. Joerg Tewes, CEO of Avegant, explains that this new technology allows designers and engineers to manipulate 3D models using their own hands, rather than being limited to traditional screens and keyboards. This ability to connect with our ideas, he asserts, is what makes Mixed Reality so compelling.

As the world ventures into the immersive 3D content and digital environments realm, a revolutionary transformation is on the horizon. This offers a distinctive opportunity for designers, engineers, and businesses to join in on this remarkable shift. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should be seized.

We would love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to share your opinions, ideas, and suggestions in the comments section below.

Join the Top 1% of Remote Developers and Designers

Works connects the top 1% of remote developers and designers with the leading brands and startups around the world. We focus on sophisticated, challenging tier-one projects which require highly skilled talent and problem solvers.
seasoned project manager reviewing remote software engineer's progress on software development project, hired from Works blog.join_marketplace.your_wayexperienced remote UI / UX designer working remotely at home while working on UI / UX & product design projects on Works blog.join_marketplace.freelance_jobs