Augmented and Virtual Realities: What Are They?

Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices may generate sights, sounds, and other sensory input.

VR is more immersive. If you put on a VR device, which generally covers your eyes, you’re largely cutting yourself off from the real world and entering a digitally rendered one. VR is intended to trick your senses into believing that the virtual world you’re experiencing is real. As you move your head, for example, you see objects that are digitally rendered in real time.

Augmented reality works in a similar way except that it’s less immersive. As in VR, digital images are generated as you look through your smartphone or a headset, but these images overlay your normal visual experience. For example, you may be looking at your actual kitchen table but see it digitally “augmented” with virtually anything, from a vase of flowers to an animated fictional character.

Both augmented and virtual reality work with smartphone screens, but various companies are creating headsets that allow users to experience them in a more seamless way.

AR and VR share a common problem: the difficulty of generating high-resolution digital objects in real time. This requires a lot of computing power, and it presents many challenges to the developers writing the software for such devices.

Some experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before the same devices are used for both VR and AR purposes. However, that’s not yet certain. Because VR requires a more immersive experience, it may require significantly different hardware and software for the foreseeable future.


Editor’s Note: The featured image associated with this story is from the Oregon Research Institute Applied Computer Simulation Labs.

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