“Virtual reality and augmented reality have the potential to become the next big computing platform, and as we saw with the PC and smartphone, we expect new markets to be created and existing markets to be disrupted”
-Goldman Sachs Investment Research

Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) have become increasingly popular within the last few years. People use the terms AR, MR and VR often, but do you know what it actually means? VR, MR and AR differ in how digital content is combined with the physical world. AR and MR overlay holograms on top of the physical world, while VR is a fully immersive experience that replaces the world around you and transports you to a new location.

What is Augmented and Mixed Reality?

“I think AR is big and profound.” “I don’t think there is any sector or industry that will be untouched by AR.”
-Apple CEO Tim Cook – CNBC and Vogue

Augmented Reality is defined as “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.” What does this actually mean? In simple terms, AR shows digital images on your glasses, phone or tablet that can only be seen on these devices, not in the real world. The real world is still seen when using AR, it is just enhanced with digital images. Users are not constricted to a fully enclosed headset such as Virtual Reality; thus, you can make a clear distinction between reality.

AR can be used in a number of applications including but not limited to gaming, interior decorating, architecture, fashion, tourism. One of the popular early uses of AR was the Pokémon Go app which allowed users to capture, train, and fight virtual characters in your real world location as if it was happening right in front of you.

Examples of AR would be Radical Galaxy’s furniture app that’s in development that allows consumers to furnish their homes and see what items look like in scale in their living room. What is great about using AR for interior design is that you can see what the furniture would look like in your home. This means that what you see on your phone is what it would look like in real life; from the look of it to how much space the piece of furniture would take up. Using AR to select furniture pieces is great for those who are more visual and to avoid potential furniture mishaps such as ordering a sofa too big for your living room.  

Besides being used for personal uses, devices such as the Hololens is being used in a professional setting from architecture, construction, medical and oil and gas to reduce downtime and costs and saving on travel expenses sending specialized staff to specific locations. A Hololens is a pair of glasses that lets you see holograms of objects overlaid in the real world. You can click with your fingers, move things around the room with ease, and interact with everything from games to web browsers in a very natural format.  

Recently, Baker Hughes replaced parts of a turbine at a petrochemical plant in Malaysia in five days and no travel expenses. An on-site technician was guided by engineers supervising the work remotely from a Baker Hughes site in the US. If the team had to go onsite the time would have taken longer which is costly given the downtime of the machinery, in addition to the estimated $50,000 of travel costs to get the team to Malaysia as was reported in Bloomberg.

What is Virtual Reality?

“We are setting a goal: we want to get a billion people in virtual reality”
-Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

Virtual Reality is defined as “the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment (a headset)” In other words, Virtual Reality is when you are fully immersed in the virtual world and cannot see actual reality. As you turn your head or move your body, the graphics in the headset react to your movements, allowing you to feel as if you are inside another world.

Major players in the VR space are Oculus (Facebook), HTC, and Microsoft to name a few. Virtual Reality is being used for a number of real estate applications. Architects can use virtual reality to design the projects they are working on. Instead of building costly physical models, they can produce VR models which is more interactive, allows modifications to be made easily and a great tool to use for community meetings, the entitlement process and sales and marketing. Using this can potentially save clients millions of dollars on construction costs. It also allows a platform for everyone involved in the design process to see the same thing and give notes to each other. This avoids confusion and the necessity to have everyone meet all in the same place. Optionality can also be built into the VR model, therefore you can see what different materials for walls, floors, and furniture can look like in the space. Having the optionality allows customers to make designs quicker and gives all parties involved a better understanding of what the client wants.

Challenges with AR and VR

“The phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform [where] a lot of these AR features become mainstream, rather than a glasses form factor that people will wear on their face.”
-Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

In VR environments, low latency requirements are of great importance as the human eye needs to perceive accurate and smooth movements for providing an enjoyable VR experience. Given latency issues on current mobile devices it can create a motion sickness feeling in some users.  Tethered VR (Oculus, Vive, Windows Mixed Reality) eliminate some of these issues, but there is still further improvement needed.

Along with latency issues mobile VR is very data demanding.  When the industry moves from 4G to 5G wireless technology it will be a major step forward as the new system efforts aim at supporting the upcoming growth in data rate requirements.  

Future of AR and VR Technology

“Why shouldn’t people be able to teleport wherever they want?”
Palmer Luckey, Oculus Founder

AR and VR devices are being constructed and perfected by many well known companies such as Microsoft, Google, HTC, Apple to name a few. The possibilities are endless for the future in both the professional and gaming markets. Who knows, maybe in the future we will have contacts powered by kinetic energy that will have these capabilities.