Imagine you are in Old Trafford watching Manchester United play, during half-time you take out your phone to play Pokémon Go, and then you see a Pikachu running around on the football pitch in front of you, on your phone! This is augmented reality.

You are sitting at home feeling bored, but then you put on a pair of virtual goggles and voila! You are now in an alternate dimension where you are fighting dolphins for the control of the universe. This is virtual reality.

Read the blog post below to get an in-depth idea about these engaging concepts.

Timeline of augmented reality and virtual reality

  • In 1957, Morton Heilig designed a machine that would enable people to immerse themselves into sensory stimulation while watching movies. This was the first instance of augmented reality.
  • In 1970, Myron Krueger set up a workshop to create virtual reality environment using cameras and projectors. This workshop was known as Videoplace.
  • In 1992, L.B. Rosenberg came up with the theory of Virtual Fixtures. This theory revolved around involving computers to fix any errors made by humans in their tasks.
  • In 1993, Loral WDL made a demonstration revolving around vehicles that were equipped with augmented reality.
  • In 1994, Julie Martin created ‘Dancing in Cyberspace’, which was a theatrical production. It allowed people to use objects in the virtual dimension through computer graphics.
  • In 1999, Hirokazu Kato invented a software that helped in solving the two main issues in augmented reality – object interaction and tracking. This software was known as ARToolkit.
  • In 2011, LASTER Technologies developed goggles which incorporated augmented and virtual reality.
  • In 2016, virtual reality was introduced in gaming consoles such as Xbox and PS4.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive, reality-based display environment that takes the capabilities of a computer-generated display, sound, text and effects to enhance a user's real-world experience. The basic concept of AR is to combine the real environment with virtual content and present it using computer graphics. It is important to ensure that the virtual content is in line with the real environment.  

Augmented reality can be divided into several categories, such as:

  • Marker-based AR: this form of AR, also known as image recognition AR, uses a camera and a visual marker (2D/QR code). The visual markers are embedded within the system that detects physical world objects for superimposition of virtual elements. The result is produced only when the reader senses a marker.
  • Markerless AR: Markerless AR is better known as location-based AR or GPS. This form of AR uses GPS, a digital compass or an accelerometer that provides data based on your location. These tools are inbuilt in your smartphone. It is mainly used in location-based applications and to find directions to a particular place.
  • Projection-based AR: in this method of AR, artificially produced light is projected on surfaces that are present in the actual world. An example of this form is 3D holograms that are projected in the air or on actual surfaces.
  • Superimposition-based AR: this form of AR fully or partially replaces the original view of an item with an amplified view of the same item. Object recognition is a key part of this AR type because the application cannot replace an object with its amplified form. An example of this is the Ikea virtual catalogue. Customers can scan pages of the Ikea catalogue, and then organise and design Ikea furniture in their own homes with the assistance of AR.

How does augmented reality work?

The primary goal of augmented reality is to introduce computer-generated items into the actual world which can only be seen by the user. In AR applications, users can see two kinds of light—natural and artificial. This is because the images are projected on top of see-through glasses, which allows users to view the actual world with the augmented one. Unlike the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or other virtual reality devices, AR devices do not require any desktop, laptop, or cable to function.

AR can be portrayed through a number of devices such as glasses, screens, and hand-held devices.

Google Glass is one of the most popular AR tools present currently. These augmented reality glasses or goggles put AR directly on the faces of users. Hand-held devices have small displays, so AR is modified to fit in those screens as well. Soon there will come a time when AR devices will require little quantity of hardware and would start being applied to small things such as virtual retinal displays and contact lenses.

However, AR still requires certain hardware components, such as:

  • Cameras and sensors: cameras are located on the exterior parts of AR devices and are used for scanning information about the surrounding locales. Devices use this scanned data to prepare a digital model that is used to formulate an appropriate output. The exterior of AR devices also has sensors embedded in them. The task of these sensors is to gather users’ interactions in the real world and convert them to be interpreted.
  • Projection: projectors are usually components present in AR headsets which have the capability to convert users’ surroundings into an interactive setting.
  • Processing: AR devices require a large amount of processing power and usually include the same components that are present in smartphones. CPU, memory, RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS microchip are some of these components.

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer-generated realities that are designed to simulate a person’s physical presence in a specific environment. The primary aim of VR is to enable users to experience virtual environments as if they were real.

VR makes it possible for users to experience any type of environment. It is an immersive technology that humans can enjoy through various types of VR tools such as VR headset, VR glasses, VR games, iPhone VR, and virtual reality 3D headset.

There are several types of VR. Take a look at these categories:

  • Non-immersive VR: in this form of VR, only a part of users’ senses are present in a simulated environment, which presents users with peripheral awareness of reality outside the simulation. This form of VR is usually done with the assistance of desktop workstations.
  • Semi-immersive VR: in this VR category, users are partly immersed in a virtual setting. Similar to flight simulations, this type of VR is powered using high-performance computers in collaboration with projection systems and virtual reality goggles.
  • Fully-immersive VR: in this form of VR, users are fully immersed in the simulations. Tools such as virtual reality headset, head-mounted displays (HMD), and motion detecting devices are used to stimulate users’ senses. Virtual reality games are one of the forms of fully-immersive VR. 

How does Virtual Reality Work?

Virtual reality, in a layman’s terms, means complete immersion, in which users’ sensory experiences are so simulated that they forget it is a virtual environment. They begin interacting with the environment as if it actually exists in the real world. A virtual reality setting may simulate scenarios such as swimming in the sea, flying in the air, or even fighting aliens.

Take a look at some of the key elements of virtual reality:

  • Virtual world: this is a 3D setting where users can interact with the environment and create items in that environment.
  • Immersion: VR immersion refers to the concept of being physically present in a virtual world. It involves the sense of presence, in which a user’s brain accepts that it is in a surrounding that does not really exist. This is accomplished via physical or/and mental means.
  • Sensory feedback: a key part of VR is to involve the senses of users such as are touch, hearing, and vision. Stimulation of these senses is done using hardware such as HMD, VR goggles, and hand accessories.
  • Interaction: a VR environment can only be successful if users are able to interact with and within the environment. If users have the opportunity to interact with the environment, they get completely engaged in it.

How to differentiate between augmented reality and virtual reality?

Take a look at the differences between AR and VR:

  • AR provides users with virtual elements in the real world while VR takes users to a virtual world.
  • AR does not create an environment, it simply enhances the surroundings. On the other hand, VR creates a completely different 3D virtual reality environments for users which is interactive.
  • Unlike VR, AR does not allow users to completely immerse themselves in the environment.
  • Users can employ AR using devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets. On the other hand, in order to use VR, users require tools and devices such as HMD, virtual reality glasses, hand accessories, virtual headset, and a VR

If you are interested in learning augmented reality and virtual reality, London College of Contemporary Arts (LCCA) offers a course of HNC/HND in Computer Game Animation.

This text was written by Varun Mehta and edited by Anisa Choudhary.