If you’re like most, then the mention of virtual and augmented reality probably brings up images of playing games or watching futuristic sci-fi movies. Though, since you’re reading this article, you likely already know that Virtual and Augmented reality can be much more than just something to pass the time for gamers or tech geeks.
Virtual reality and augmented reality accomplish two very different things in two very different ways, despite the similar designs of the devices themselves. VR replaces reality, taking you somewhere else. AR adds to reality, projecting information on top of what you’re already seeing.
The world is getting more and more visual and connected. Technology is getting to the point where, with the right gadgets, a user can connect to anything and anytime.
Where the Internet was once just about gathering information, it can now also be a gateway to actual experiences. Sometimes the computer can be something that distracts the user from the real world.
The return of Virtual Reality and evolution to augmented reality
Chances are, if you’re old enough, virtual reality isn’t something new to you. You’ve likely seen versions of it pop up in the past.
It was pretty cool, but it never really caught on.
One of the reasons for its failure in the past was that technology couldn’t deliver on the promise of sending the user into a whole new world.
The virtual reality of the past was fun, but it didn’t seem like reality.
Now, technology like the Hololens, Google Daydream View, and Oculus Rift can deliver on that failed promise.
When you use current virtual and augmented reality devices, you truly feel like you’re experiencing an alternate reality.
The world outside fades into the new one that technology has created.
Google, Hololens, and Oculus
First, let's separate between products here. Google and Oculus are much closer to the definition of a VR, while HoloLens is closer to AR.
I will be talking about all technologies mixed, but you know that one can interact much more with the real environment than the other.
We've seen numerous movies and video games depict scenes where information is spread across the entire room in massive holograms; something of a trope nowadays. Is Hololens AR the future that Microsoft had in mind?
From demonstrations, it doesn't seem to be the big picture, but it might very well be a nice little perk. In its initial presentation at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, people were shown Minecraft being played on a living room table.
Developers have stated that more functions via touch and movement are in development, but for now, the Hololens 1 displayed a simple click on its Minecraft demonstration; quite a feat for equipment in its infancy, regardless.
More videos have emerged showing the capability of 3D movies being made with the Microsoft Hololens 2 and several other features to bring consumers into the future.
What Hololen AR aims to do is bring the computer into the real world without hindering your ability to interact with it.
Google followed with Google Cardboard, a VR headset with a low price trying to motivate the user and make them get used to the technology.
Google then developed an improved version, the Daydream View, launched in 2016. This product is built into the Android mobile operating system, making it easy for anyone who already has a smartphone.
The product also created easiness to use since it comes with a list of compatible apps that continues to grow.
Another big tech, Facebook, acquired Oculus in March 2014 for 2.3 billion USD to enter in the VR market.
Their product, Oculus Rift, mostly aimed to make the user feel as they were in another world, place, time, etc.
Another version, the Oculus Go, was launched similar to Google Daydream using a phone headset, but without using your phone. It's a cheaper version that also comes with several apps.
Using Hololens for Skype meetings?
Getting back to augmented reality, Hololens headsets do not aim to trick perception, but rather to enhance it and how consumers interact with computers.
Microsoft Skype, as an example, will take calling and screen-sharing to an impressive new level by allowing further interactivity that had been hindered before: jotting down notes, providing pictures or links, these are just a few capabilities shown thus far – what the Hololens could do for the education department alone is an exciting thought.
The gaming industry may very well see more than just Minecraft eventually, though the Hololens is widely being demonstrated as a tool for business at this time.
Any tech out there will still agree that a good computer can be used for business and pleasure, no matter the form.
Practical Uses Beyond Entertainment
Virtual reality has been primarily used as entertainment. Want to get your adrenaline pumping with an exotic adventure, a roller coaster, or a cool game? All while sitting on your couch? Check below how cool this VR simulation can be.
However, these pieces of technology can add value to other parts of our lives in the future. Some of which are already starting to happen.
Virtual and augmented reality can facilitate many things. Two other industries, in particular, have seen practical uses for the technology: education and healthcare.
We’re seeing wearables that provide health data that can be used to help treat patients more efficiently. Virtual and augmented reality can be used to train doctors and test customer usability in cars, and more.
The connectivity and immersive nature of these gadgets will allow businesses of all kinds to tap into data and create valuable experiences.
Virtual and Augmented Reality in Education
When I was a kid, we primarily used pencil and paper. Now students are using iPads just as much as notepads. Also, with it becoming more and more accessible, students will be able to take advantage of virtual and augmented reality in the classroom as well.
The benefits of virtual and augmented reality in the school are varied and numerous, but here is a couple to think about:
Teachers are often scrambling to find ways to make learning fun and engaging for kids.
The school has never had the reputation of being exciting, but the inclusion of immersive technology like virtual and augmented reality could go a long way in changing that perception.
Which would you instead do, read a book about Elizabethan England or take a trip there? I’ll take the latter.
Everyone has a different way of learning things. I prefer to listen to a teacher without taking notes so that I can remember everything.
Others need to read and write dozens of pages of notes. Others still need to see something to learn it.
With virtual and augmented reality, students will be able to do even more than see a lesson.
They’ll be able to experience it. Imagine being in shop class and being able to learn how to use a table saw without the danger of losing a finger.
Field trips have always been used as a fun way to experience something new for students. However, field trips require logistical planning, permission slips, money, transportation, and more.
Even with all of that, field trips are still limited to geographical regions. Virtual and augmented reality unlocks the ability to plan trips to anywhere, without any of the hassles.
VR and AR are also being used for learning and training purposes in the army.
Virtual and Augmented Reality's Impact on Healthcare
Students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from virtual and augmented reality.
The uses in healthcare are almost as diverse as the industry itself.
It’s an industry that can be life or death, so having the right tools to help enhance training and treatment is of great importance.
Check out some of the fresh ways VR is helping shape healthcare:
Want to practice heart surgery? You could use a cow’s heart and only have one chance before having to find another bovine doner to drill a second time.
Alternatively, you could pop on a virtual reality headset and immerse yourself in the experience of surgery.
Try over and over until you get it right, without the risk of killing a patient of wasting an organ.
If virtual and augmented reality can become immersive enough to recreate the same levels of stress as a real operating room, there’s no end to the benefits for medical students and practitioners.
Face your fears. It’s a common phrase and one that therapists can put into practice for their clients in a safe way.
Just like the visual learners, we talked about above, sometimes getting exposed to fear is an excellent way to get over it.
Instead of climbing to the top of a building to get over the fear of heights, you could stand at the top of the Empire State Building without leaving the couch.
Millions of people have physical disabilities that restrict their movement or access to certain activities.
A patient in a wheelchair might not be able to enjoy a hike through the Grand Canyon, or an amputee wouldn’t be able to enjoy the feeling of playing catch.
With virtual and augmented reality, patients with these limitations can experience the impossible. It sounds pie in the sky, but with the right technology, it’s possible.
The Impact of Virtual and Augmented Reality in the Business World
Microsoft showed also demoed the uses for 3D artists and engineers – so let’s take a closer look at its everyday applications for the technology.
Ever enter a conference call wanting to have your bullet points on hand? Alternatively, perhaps a diagram on your computer in your back pocket to quickly reference when presenting to stakeholders?
With virtual and augmented reality, you can see your reference material right in front of you.
By using the right application, you could have this reference material right in front of everyone’s eyes – highlighting each portion of the diagram as you talk about it.
Financial figures, charts, numbers, and sources all right in front of your nose.
When prototyping web, mobile, or software features – experiencing your design faster is always better.
Imagine prototyping and having your work appear right next to you.
You can see it moving, interact with it, reach out, and touch it (almost). You can immediately experience and judge the product in action.
No compiling or hosting required. Just like the conference call, your prototype can be accessed by the development team instantly.
They can interact with it too, send feedback and comments, or iterate on it further. The speed of virtual and augmented reality, collaboration, and total immersion mean quicker pivoting for your whole company.
First, there was a keyboard and DOS, where every command had to be entered with a series of keystrokes. Then there was the mouse, which worked well with new Graphic Interfaces.
Suddenly everything on your computer is only a double-click away. Now we have WACOM tablets and iPads – where it’s a single tap.
Microsoft’s Hololens works with Windows 10. You can live the interface instead of interacting with the interface.
A few years back we watched Tom Cruise poking at the air, interfacing with his computer in Minority Report. Now, with Hololens, you and your employees will be able to interact with their computers as fast as the future allows!
Microsoft’s Hololens is the middle ground between virtual reality and augmented reality.
It can be used in production, design, and inter-business communications; but the usefulness of the technology has only begun to be imagined.
Challenges to Effectiveness
Despite the cool factor and practical uses for virtual and augmented reality and wearables, there are still tons of roadblocks to their widespread adoption.
For consumers, the main sticking point may be that you look a little silly using it. It’s a small knock on the product, but it’s quite significant. If users don’t feel comfortable using the technology, they’ll stop using it—even if it’s fun and useful.
For marketers, the challenge is a big one: how do they reach the user without providing a jarring experience? Wearable users want a seamless experience, and any ad that seems out of place will frustrate users.
Marketers will need to adapt to these new platforms and provide relevant and unobtrusive messaging. Costs can be another issue for the popularity of these gadgets.
Prices will continue to fall as technology gets better, but for now, it’s only for the tech-savvy and upper-middle-class plus. While the gadgets are very cool, if there isn’t a user base to support it, they might fail until they can resurface again in the future.
The future is an exciting perspective depending on whom you are talking to. Most are still waiting on flying cars, but ’we’re only halfway there.
The last decade has been rise to some incredible technological advances, and the focus seems to be ever drifting towards putting more power in the hands of the user.
So, is virtual and augmented reality right up there with the movie Matrix?
However, now, we see devices, apps, and software that are designed specifically to enhance the real world. Wearables are immersive, and at the moment this is how they’re changing the technology landscape.
In short, is virtual and augmented reality delivering the future?
The short answer is that, while it may not be the technology of Star Trek, it is undoubtedly an admirable undertaking.
The technology industry continues to see more revolutionary ideas each year, and not just from the giant corporations either. A contribution can count from anyone, and that seems to be the real idea of the future – technology improving by people and for people.