VR vs AR vs MR
Vishnu Thirumalai, London 30/10/18
KCL FinTech Society, King's College London
With Apple recently releasing their ARkit for developers, and VR videos and games becoming more mainstream, a question needs to be answered: What is the difference between them?
Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality are all very similar, changing what people are able to perceive by adding to what the user can see, or entirely replacing it with a new model. This is generally done via headset, which places two screens in front of the users’ eyes for them to look at – though modern smartphones are often powerful enough to do this, by splitting their screens in half. The new reality doesn’t have to be all-encompassing though: for example, the iOS 12 Measure app is an example of AR limited to a single screen.
Virtual Reality is the most distinct of the three, as it completely disregards reality to display its own world. An early example from the 1960s is an aeroplane training simulator (http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/Cyberia/VETopLevels/VR.History.html), used to train pilots in harrowing situations without the risks of death and losing planes. One can think of it as a perfect spherical screen surrounding the user, completely replacing what is actually there with a video or game.
Augmented Reality on the other hand simply adds an overlay to what is already there – Pokémon GO is the most famous example. These additions appear in front of the existing world, enriching it or providing information – going back to our spherical screen example, as if the parts of the screen that were unused appeared transparent. It’s recently had a surge in popularity with Heads-Up Display style apps, which identify things that your camera is pointing at, and provide information about it in virtual labels.
Mixed Reality is seen as the newest kid on the block, though an early version was also developed by the US Air Force in the early 1990s. Often described as ‘the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments’, it is similar to AR – but places the objects it creates in the environment. An example would be rather than creating a sofa in front of a picture of your living room; it would actually rotate it and place it on the floor of your living room. It can also refer to the simulation then manipulation of your surroundings, which involves creating a virtual model of reality, then adding things in at whim. Both sides have tradeoffs, and both continue to be explored.
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