New realities – all about VR, XR, AR and MR
October 31st, 2020
Virtual reality has already become a part of our life – we mention it in different contexts. The VR industry is developing so fast that it becomes difficult to keep track of it: people do not always (or not fully) understand what is at stake. Confusion is also created by the large number of acronym terms: VR, XR, MR, CR, and AR. At first glance, it is difficult to understand them, although in reality everything is not so difficult. The main thing is to put everything on the shelves.
There is debate about when humanity first started talking about the possibility of creating virtual realities. Some say that the origins of the concept are ancient religions, while others point to Greek and Roman thinkers. Philosophers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment were the closest to predicting the emergence of such technology. Nevertheless, even their definitions are far from modern.
The modern interpretation of the concept was invented in the 40s of the XX century, which was facilitated by the development of cinema. Already in the 50s and 60s, patented devices appeared that vaguely resembled VR helmets. These devices were either stereoscopes (in other words, the technology now used in 3D cinemas), or glasses with a built-in display.
What is virtual reality
In the modern sense of this concept, virtual reality is a computer simulation, an artificial world in which a three-dimensional space is imitated.
The main property of virtual reality is that a person can perceive the virtual world with the help of his senses. We are talking about visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory images. At the same time, the plausibility of such an imitation is important so that a person immerses himself in the virtual world as much as possible.
Another important property is the interactivity of the virtual space. The user should be able to interact with him and influence him, and the result of the interaction should be predictable.
Virtual reality should not completely copy the real world and its laws. Its task is to influence the human senses – in other senses, anything can be implied.
On the development of technology
Twenty-twenty-five years ago, we called the Internet a virtual space, and indeed everything that happens inside a computer. This definition was incorrect even then, and even more so now.
When three-dimensional video games began to appear, we began to say that there is a virtual world inside them. This definition is quite correct. We are talking about Desktop-based reality, that is, the virtual world created by a computer.
You can call any video game virtual reality, but again, this is in the past. Now you won’t surprise anyone with a picture on a monitor, and even when people talk about VR and related technologies, they don’t mean the screen at all.
Modern VR is either a full-fledged immersion in artificial reality using glasses or a helmet (in fact, VR), or the interaction of artificial and “real” realities (MR, XR, AR) using third-party gadgets. It is in this context that the concept of virtual reality is used.
Why it is important to differentiate between concepts
There are many approaches to simulating reality, while the concepts can be very different from each other. You cannot call each technology VR, since the degree of human immersion in artificial reality differs, and the devices are used for this.
When we talk about VR, XR, AR, MR or CR we mean different things. Thus, a large number of definitions are a real necessity, not a gimmick of marketers.
VR (Virtual Reality) is a technology that assumes full immersion of a person in virtual reality. The virtual world is created by a computer, and all changes within the world are processed in real time.
Modern VR has the following distinctive features:
- Sensory deprivation of users from external stimuli. We are talking about using headphones, a VR headset with a built-in display, using special gloves (or even clothing) to simulate tactile sensations. The task is to protect a person from the real world as much as possible and immerse him in virtual reality;
- The tendency to become more complex. Virtual worlds are becoming more elaborate. In new video games or simulators, you can turn your head 360 degrees, interact with surrounding objects. Management becomes more difficult. Moreover, even now it is often necessary to walk in the real world in order to move in the virtual one. This, again, is about the degree of immersion – in order to deepen the user into a new reality, manufacturers and developers are trying to get rid of the use of conditional buttons, like on the keyboard;
- Using complex software and hardware. We have become more demanding on the quality of graphics and the believability of the virtual world, which complicates the task of simulating reality: programmers write a lot of code, but powerful computers are needed to use technology.
As you can see, the technology has become quite complicated. That is why it is possible to call the world in the old Doom, Quake or Half-Life virtual, although it is possible, but not necessary – the new technology has completely replaced the old one, and the meaning of the term “VR” has changed.
Modern VR has become mainstream. A full-fledged VR experience, although not cheap (a VR headset and sensors for control + a powerful computer are relatively expensive), but if desired, it is available to everyone. Basically, owning a VR headset in 2020 is like owning a computer in the 90s.
Where is VR used
In short, VR is most often used either in the entertainment industry or for applied (educational, industrial) purposes.
In the first case, we are talking about video games (which is only worth the recent excitement around the release of HL: Alyx – the most popular and well-developed game for virtual reality). In addition, VR is also used in interactive cinematography.
For educational purposes, VR began to be used almost earlier than for entertainment. The clearest example is flight simulators. Virtual airplanes are no easier to fly than real ones, and novice pilots gain full experience and knowledge without risking their health and expensive equipment. In addition, VR is already being used to train doctors, soldiers, astronauts and even engineers.
Artificial simulations are used by scientists to model hypothetical situations, predict events from the point of view of physics, chemistry or biology, and study certain phenomena. In this case, virtual reality is as close as possible to the real world, at least – its laws approximately copy the laws of the real world.
There is another common use case for VR. We are talking about VR cameras that allow you to capture the real world and translate it into digital 3D space. For example, you can walk the streets of different cities using Google Maps, or visit a museum without leaving your home. In addition, VR can be used to capture 360-degree panoramic videos. Examples of these videos can be found on YouTube.
How to get a VR experience
The easiest way is to make your own helmet goggles. You can use the Google Cardboard project. A smartphone is inserted into homemade glasses, on which a stereoscopic video is launched – here’s a simplified VR experience for you.
You can experience full, high-quality and modern VR by purchasing a set of helmet and controls (gloves, joystick, etc.). These are the Oculus Rift kits, HTC Vive kits, or any other appropriate kit.
Travel agencies pay great attention to VR. VR is used for advertising purposes: potential tourists can visit different cities and countries right in the agency’s office. Judging by the statistics used by marketers, sales of travel agencies are growing well thanks to the use of VR.
The virtual helps allows doctors to practice before starting work with real patients. VR turned out to be especially useful for surgeons – they learn how to perform operations, while inside virtual reality they are given useful tips that cannot be obtained in other conditions (without software and a screen).
Siemens uses VR to train its employees. The company has oil platforms, which are not only difficult, but also dangerous. With virtual reality, employees can learn to solve the most common problems on rigs in a safe environment. In addition, VR allows the employee to psychologically prepare for the environment and working conditions in the oil fields.
Future design engineers are also trained using VR. Virtual reality allows you to see an object in three-dimensional perspective and explore it from all sides. In addition, the engineer can upload his project to VR, and thus see the approximate results even before the project is implemented.
VR is used in factories to plan work and prevent malfunctions and accidents. Gabler uses VR helmets to investigate various stages of production (conveyors) for possible hazards to employees. VR also improves speed and efficiency through workflow upgrades.
Experts from the University of Zurich have come up with a non-standard application for VR. With the help of artificial reality, they studied crimes: they recreated the scene of events and the actions of people associated with the offense. It is more convenient to study the circumstances of a crime in simulation than on paper.
AR is another widespread technology, in fact, the second most popular and well-known after VR. AR stands for “Augmented reality” or “augmented reality.” The essence of AR is that the computer does not generate a new reality, but only adds virtual objects to the picture of the real world.
In the simplest case, this is implemented as follows: a camera from a device (VR-glasses, smartphone) captures an image of “real” reality, and a computer “on the fly” processes this image and superimposes virtual objects on the picture.
In general, AR is simpler than VR, and this technology does not require such complex software and powerful hardware as full-fledged virtual reality. But this is the case in most cases. Still, there are some situations when AR is even more complicated than VR. For example: when machine vision and AR technology is used, it is necessary to determine with great accuracy which object is in the field of view in order to automatically determine the algorithm of actions.
Examples of AR usage
In fact, there are quite a few of them. Despite the fact that augmented reality technology seems simpler than full reality technology, there are many ways to use AR. Here are just a few examples of how and where AR can be used:
- Video games. Remember the hype around Pokemon Go in 2015-2016? The player walked the streets of his city, found a Pokemon, pointed the phone camera at it and “caught” it. At the same time, the game character itself was superimposed on the picture from the real world;
- Architecture. Projects of buildings or other objects can be visualized on the fly, and immediately get an approximate result of how the finished building will look like in reality;
- Education. Students can see a three-dimensional image of an object in real time, while it is superimposed on a picture from the real world. AR can replace notes or computers, but that’s only half the potential. There are disciplines like medicine or engineering, where visualization is important – using AR, you can improve the digestibility of the material;
- Military. It’s about training personnel: AR is used to train soldiers to train their reactions and reflexes. In addition, AR can be used to train pilots or gunners: they learn to recognize objects (airfields, railway junctions, enemy military bases) using virtual models that are superimposed on a very real topographic territory.
The potential of this technology is no less than that of VR. Most likely, in a few years, the scope will expand even more, and there will be even more talk about AR.
Putting AR to the test
It’s easy to see augmented reality. A large number of both educational and entertainment applications have already been created for smartphones. They use a stock phone camera: the user directs the lens at the outside world, and the processor draws virtual objects.
AR is also a built-in feature for VR headsets if they have an external camera. That is, having a VR headset, you can use AR technology.
Cases with AR
In some stores, customers can use AR to find out more information about a product. Motorcycle company Harley Davidson has developed an application for smartphones, by downloading which the client will be able to choose a motorcycle. Everything is customizable in the application: you can select a specific motorcycle model, choose colors and equipment. Thus, the client can first see exactly the product that he needs.
Already now, AR helmets are used to work with complex mechanisms. We are talking about any equipment, including industrial equipment. In advanced American auto repair shops, AR helps mechanics find and fix a problem in a car. For this, both software in the form of algorithms or artificial intelligence can be used, as well as IoT, when the helmet is connected to the equipment of the car.
AR is used in interior design. Previously, computer software and modeling programs were used to create a layout, which took time and skill to work with. With AR, you can quickly imagine what a room will look like with certain design solutions. This is useful for both the designer and the client.
The DHL delivery service issues AR glasses to warehouse workers. With the help of them, company employees can find the necessary parcels faster, while sorting items in the warehouse becomes easier.
The possibilities for using technology in education are endless. One of the first ideas is teaching astronomy students. With AR, students can get an interactive 3D image of space bodies, or, for example, the solar system. There are applications with which you can navigate the constellations. The camera is aimed at the night sky, and the software automatically draws up full-fledged constellation maps and indicates the names of celestial bodies.
Probably the most confusing acronym used to refer to virtual realities. The confusion surrounding the XR concept has arisen due to the fact that the term has been used in scientific papers and marketers in different ways.
Very often the term “XR” is used to refer to AR, VR or MR. Thus, marketers are trying to intrigue buyers by the fact that their device uses a new technology. For example, this was the case with the iPhone – Apple promised XR capabilities for the smartphone camera, while the XR turned out to be a regular augmented reality (AR).
Another way to use the XR notation is to combine all such technologies into one term. In this case, XR can be VR, MR, AR, or CR. The term is used because there are many similarities between technologies and researchers often deal with the problems of each of them.
In addition, XR could also mean something like an improved MR. There is a concept implying a partial unification of the virtual and real worlds. Some XR developments, for example, allow the user to take objects from the real world and copy them to the virtual one, and vice versa.
XR Usage Examples
It all depends on the context in which the term is used. Most likely, XR will mean any other virtual reality technology, which means it makes no sense to talk about specific examples – any from VR, AR or MR will do.
On the other hand, some marketers advocate the uniqueness of the XR term. In this case, XR means a combination of AR and IoT – the Internet of Things. Devices from the real world affect the virtual one, and vice versa. In this case, XR is quite unique: it can be used in education, industry and manufacturing, in scientific research.
A practical example.
Let’s say you have a large company that has corporate servers. The staff who manage the servers do not have time to cope with the tasks due to the inconvenient interface on the monitors. The company solves the problem by connecting wireless transmitters (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) to the server, while the transmitter itself connects to AR glasses.
Now the employee can put on glasses and look at the servers (literally). An AR window will appear next to them, which will indicate information about the state of the server in real time. The IoT connects to the helmet and the user receives up-to-date information.
How to test XR
Strictly speaking, the technology has not yet become mainstream, because the IoT itself is still in its infancy. If someone advertises XR, then most likely they are talking about VR or AR, MR.
IT professionals can come up with their own projects with XR: for example, connect the transmitters to your home computers and a Wi-Fi router. Configure the transmitter so that it sends information about the status of computers and the router to the AR helmet. When wearing a helmet, you will see information about the status of the network and computers.
Mixed Reality (MR) is the most complex technology we’ve reviewed. “Mixed Reality” is translated as “Mixed Reality”, and from the name the essence of the technology is clear.
The task of MR is to combine virtual and ordinary reality to such an extent that a person cannot distinguish one from the other. To do this, the computer must be able to “draw” 3D objects into the real world, recognize objects and analyze objects in the image.
In AR, sketchiness is enough, the main thing is a practical result. The task of MR is deeper – virtual reality should ideally fit into the real one in order for a person to fully immerse themselves in it. All senses (sight, hearing, etc.) must be imitated, objects must have a plausible pattern of behavior, they must be interactive.
Mixed reality should be multi-layered, that is, the real and virtual worlds are processed by the computer at the same time, while the processor also creates a third, mixed world. Real and artificial objects must interact with each other.
Mixed reality can be used as you like. With MR, you can do literally anything, both entertainment and practical tasks. Already, MR is used for business (task management) and for education (simulation of phenomena and objects). In addition, there are successful cases of using MR for training military personnel.
Mixed reality is used in practice and for medical purposes. During complex surgical operations, the doctor sometimes has to visualize biological objects or phenomena, and MR helps with this. In addition, medical personnel need to constantly interact with each other, and MR speeds up this process and makes it more visible, as a result of which work efficiency increases.
Another promising area is remote work. Employees can “go to work” without leaving home. Their interaction will not differ from normal live communication. Teams can be international, while the need for knowledge of foreign languages will decrease – the speech will be translated in real time by a computer. Mixed reality can also help organize a collaborative workspace to share ideas and results.
MR is actively developing, and there are already mass-produced MR helmets. They are more expensive than regular VR kits and have a more sophisticated design. Mixed reality software is written for specific needs: either for business, or for education, medicine, military affairs.
MR helmets like Microsoft’s HoloLens are expensive, and there are not many useful applications for the average user due to the fact that so far there is little software. For us, ordinary users, for now, we have to be content with VR or AR.
Aerospace corporation BAE Systems uses MR for a number of tasks. For example, the company was using MR to develop an electric rocket engine. MR accelerated development by 50% as employees found a more efficient way to assemble the engine thanks to HoloLens.
Ford uses Microsoft HoloLens helmets to practice various automotive concepts, mainly related to design. The developments of the engineers are superimposed by the MR-helmet on real mock-ups, after which the specialists have the opportunity to study the concept more closely and test it in certain simulation conditions. The same approach to MR is used by the auto companies Renault, Volvo and Audi.
Buildings and other objects that are under construction often require design revisions by engineers. With the help of MR helmets, specialists can test different design solutions at an already under construction facility.
In 2014, startup Magic Leap raised over $ 500 million to develop CR – Cinematic Reality. Quite a lot of money in Magic Leap, including the one invested by Google. The idea of CR, or CVR (Cinematic Virtual Reality), arose a long time ago, but only Magic Leap decided to actively work on the technology.
CR is AR at maximum speed. Startups want to make AR so high-quality that virtual objects cannot be distinguished from real ones – like in a movie.
Imagine highly advanced computer graphics used to render robots or special effects like explosions. Have you presented? This is exactly the effect they want to achieve in Magic Leap, only objects will be drawn in real time, and not due to post-processing of the image.
CR is somewhat similar to regular AR or XR. This is obvious, because the concepts overlap a lot.
Unlike AR or VR, CR is still more about marketing, since more or less serious development is carried out by one company, and only it has a sufficient budget for this (half a billion dollars is not a joke!).
So far, no ready-made, serious and mass development has been released in Magic Leap. Nevertheless, CR began to be frequently mentioned in foreign technology publications, sometimes on a par with other virtual reality technologies. It is likely that we should expect something encouraging and even revolutionary from CR.
Don’t confuse virtual reality and ARG
There is such a phenomenon as ARG (Alternate reality game). Basically, it is a well-designed interactive game that takes place in the real world. Sometimes players get into the ARG by accident, sometimes on purpose.
The purpose of such games is to study the plot by performing certain actions: using specific sites, calling a specific phone number, etc.
We mention ARG for several reasons:
- The name “Alternate reality” itself is very similar to AR;
- Gadgets are often used in ARG: computers, smartphones;
- Some of the ARGs are already using VR and AR technologies.
As you can see, both phenomena (virtual reality and ARG) are quite closely related, which can lead to confusion. To prevent this from happening, we immediately draw your attention: ARG is a conditional quest that may or may not be associated with VR and AR. In fact, these are different phenomena, and ARG has only an indirect relationship to virtual reality.
VR is one of the main directions of development in IT. Virtual reality is already being used not only in the entertainment industry, but also for solving applied problems, therefore VR, AR and other technologies are part of our future.
Dealing with these technologies with a swoop will not work. For a deep understanding of the issue, you need to consider everything: both the history of VR and specific devices. It is necessary to study in detail the examples of the use of technology, understand the prospects for further development and be aware of the difficulties faced by technology developers.
This article is the foundation. Here we figured out what VR, AR, XR and MR are, and found out what are the differences between them. The more you delve into the topic of virtual realities, the better you will understand them.