Disruptive 21st Century Technologies for Businesses - Virtual and Augmented Reality

To start with, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality while correcting some popular misconceptions about both VR & AR.

Augmented Reality may be defined as a live, direct or indirect view of a scenario, whose elements are augmented (supplemented ) by computer-generated sensory inputs like sound, graphics, video or GPS data. Augmented Reality is closer to a more general concept known as Mediated Reality, in which a view of reality is modified, possibly diminished even, by a computer. Technology thus functions as an enhancer of contemporary, live reality.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, often referred to as 'Computer Simulation', is the creation of a scenario or a series of scenarios which are in no way linked to reality or superimposed on them but depicts a planned and fantasized scenario highly realistically, making the viewer suspend disbelief temporarily and accept it as the real environment at that point in time. It primarily acts through two of the five senses, viz., sight and sound.

The simplest form of virtual reality is a 3D image that can be viewed interactively on a computer screen and manipulated, mostly using the keyboard or the mouse, so that the image can be moved on different planes and in different directions and also zoomed in or out. More sophisticated approaches could involve wrap-around display screens, rooms augmented with wearable computers or haptic devices that let a viewer 'feel' the image on the screen.

(View this clip at the highest resolution you can set it at and use your mouse to drag & move the picture  around, up down or sideways )

The principal usages of Virtual Reality (VR) can be divided into two major areas. These are:

  1. The development of an imagined environment for a game or an interactive story.
  2. The simulation of a real environment for training or education.
Augmented Reality (AR) is the integration of digital information or image with live video or the user's actual environment in real time. AR starts with an existing image or a series of images and transposes digital information or additional images on to it. Sophisticated AR programs used for training may include machine vision, object recognition or gesture recognition technologies. Google Glass is reputed to be incorporating a no. of AR features.

Currently, AR appears to be ahead of VR as several products are already out in the market. While AR hardware devices are expected soon from Google with the launch of Google Glass, Microsoft is also expected to launch something along similar lines. VR is meanwhile just about stepping up to the plate but with Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift, the first major launch could be expected sometime during the first half of 2016. Magic Leap with major investments from Google, Qualcomm, Andreeessen Horowitz & KPCB, has a lot of people excited about the possibilities that AR could afford. Here is a sneak peek at some of the stuff that they showcased recently.

Some of the current and planned uses of AR could include:

  • The changing maps, with visual depictions of certain weather conditions, that one can see behind weather reporters on TV.
  • Navigational, heads-up displays, embedded in the windshield of a car.
  • Displaying historical and pertinent information about a tourist attraction when a smartphone's camera is pointed at it.
  • Virtually trying on clothes through a webcam while shopping online.
  • Mobile marketing, involving product highlights and relevant information, displayed over that product or its location.
  • Layar, the free app available on Android & iOS, is a leader in the domain of 'Interactive Print' and allows users to view digital content within a variety of sources such as posters, magazine pages, advertisements and product QR codes.
VR enables one to escape one's present environment and the surrounding reality into a world of make-believe and fantasy. AR, on the other hand, enhances and enriches the real world and the surrounding reality through pertinent and relevant information and images. The many possibilities of both these technologies will become increasingly visible and clearer over the next year or two and would hold out many exciting possibilities for 21st century businesses.