Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in simple terms is a computer-generated simulation or replacement of one’s environment. For example, you put on a headset and it blocks out your worldview and substitutes it with the digital world that’s designed to fool your senses. From your brain’s perspective you’re somewhere else it’s a form of mental teleportation. So where did VR and AR come from and where will it take us.
Virtual Reality Origins
Origins of VR as a technology system can be traced back to 1962 when filmmaker Mort Heilig created the “Sensorama”. It was an arcade-style cabinet with a 3D display, vibrating seat, stereo sound. One of the experiences was riding a motorcycle down the streets of Brooklyn. The viewer would have a 3D view of the streets while having the wind blow in their face while simultaneously feeling the vibration of the motorcycle seat and even experiencing the smells of the city. The idea was revolutionary for the time it largely didn’t gain traction.
Most people point to MIT Computer Scientist Ivan Sutherland as being the Godfather of VR displays. In 1968 he created the sort of Damocles the first VR headset. He and his colleagues at MIT started the first virtual headset experiments. Sutherland was a low-key genius he also invented Sketch Pad in 1963 an advanced software for computer-aided design and a breakthrough in human-computer interaction.
It wouldn’t be until 1987 when the actual term virtual reality was coined. The term was the brainchild of Jaron Lanier an American computer philosopher and computer scientist. The actual meaning of Virtual Reality, “virtual” means being something in effect though not an actuality or in fact. In other words, ideally, VR is an approximation of our reality that is digital but not reality itself.
Since its inception in the late 60s, VR Hardware has existed largely in University Research Labs in hilariously big and bulky forms never to test the waters of the mainstream consumer product. They were mostly for gaining an understanding of the limits of our brain’s perception systems; it was also a helpful tool for PTSD and Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
Over the years various companies such as Nintendo and NEC have tried bringing VR to the consumer market but these efforts were major failures. Broadly speaking the technology just wasn’t there and the threshold for building and convincing headset was too high until now. Currently, VR is quickly becoming extremely relevant to Gamers, 3D Artists, Architects, Teachers & Students, and Medical Experts. After crying wolf, several times VR is finally showing some promise and this time around with products like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Play Station VR, etc to mobile-based headsets like the Google Daydream View and standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Go.
Augmented Reality Origins
Augmented Reality (AR) also known as mixed reality is a different beast from VR this is because its main purpose isn’t to cut out the real world and transport you to another one but rather is to be an enhancement of your real world with a set of magical virtual objects in it. When a person’s real environment is supplemented or augmented with computer-generated images usually motion tracked then that’s augmented reality.
So if you play Pokémon go when that was a thing or have you Snapchat lens face filters then you’ve already used primitive forms of augmented reality. The term augmented reality is attributed to a former Boeing researcher Thomas Corder in 1990 augment is from the Latin word “Aguere’ which means “to increase” or “to add”. Hence AR technology is adding to our existing reality and Augmented Reality is also showing promise with efforts like Microsoft’s Hololens, Magic Leap project, and most recent venture to make this tech mainstream Apple AR Glasses.
Virtual Reality tends to be completely immersive with no real-world stimuli affecting the experience and the goal of VR is to make the user feel as if they are in fact in another place. In stark contrast to this Augmented Reality acts as a digital addition to the user’s world for example objects can appear on tables, information can be displayed in floating windows, graphics can be generated all seamlessly, motion tracked to the user’s field.
The thing that makes AR and VR different from any other form of technology is that it directly affects the perceptions and processes of the human mind in an obvious way. There are a large number of people that do think both AR and VR will fade out like previous hype cycles of this technology like in the 80s and 90s.
The thing to note here is that the underlying technology is vastly more powerful this time around and it’s very much feasible to think of it as a time. We just need to have the right blend of killer AR and VR applications, products, prices, and consumer demand to begin the altered reality spark. At current rates by 2025 attractive AR and VR experiences will be commonplace if done right these technologies show incredible potential.