Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Extended Reality (XR) - An Introduction
The way we work, play, and socialize is changing dramatically. More people than ever are working remotely, and screens have become the leading platform for learning and gaming. And this evolution has paved way to the metaverse — today, popular technologies like AR, VR, MR and XR seamlessly unleash you into an immersive world where you can shop, create and play games, collaborate with colleagues, explore, and more.
20 years ago, the idea of experiencing digital content as if it were part of our real environment seemed like science fiction. For a long time VR hardware was expensive, complicated and totally unintuitive. Today, AR, VR, MR and XR technologies look completely different – 360-degree videos on YouTube, AR filters on Snapchat and homemade VR devices like the Google Cardboard are changing our experience of immersive experiences. Especially in times of social distancing, of travel restrictions and limitations, augmented reality can replace a real “prevented reality”.
Let us try to understand what these technologies are and how they are changing the way we interact in the digital world:
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that enriches the user’s perception and provides a live view of the real world with digital information, aiming to expand it by adding images, sound, video and other virtual details.
The purpose of AR is to augment the environment and let virtual elements interact with real objects to create intended meanings. In AR, informatively-designed virtual environments coexist with the real ones by providing additional data about the real world. So, how does augmented reality work?
Most often, special equipment is not needed to create an AR, which is usually generated by common devices, mainly smartphone cameras, instead. Virtual three-dimensional (3D) objects and environments are superimposed by AR systems on real-world objects in real time based on their geometric relationships since the systems calculate the position and orientation of objects relative to others.
Today, AR technology is commonly complemented by mobile phone technologies such as GPS, 3G, 4G and remote sensing. The combined image is usually projected onto mobile screens, augmented reality glasses and other devices.
Examples of AR systems are those that are used in photography and editing like Snapchat filters, virtual dressing rooms, interior decoration applications like IKEA mobile as well as virtual battlefields, and games such as Nintendo's Pokémon Go. Moreover, AR is also widely used in marketing, and medical and healthcare applications.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology and method that regenerates 3D digital images and videos to create real visual experiences for users. So, how does virtual reality work?
The purpose of VR is to create an illusion of immersion in a life-size 3D digital environment. To make 3D images and videos, much of which reproduce the real or imaginary world, VR systems usually use computer vision and advanced graphics that add depth and reconstruct the scale and distance between static two-dimensional (2D) images. All this together is designed to replace a real-life environment with a simulated one, creating an immersive effect that feels like you are part of the particular computer-generated digital environment that you are viewing.
To explore and control 3D environments, users utilize computers and sensory devices like VR headsets and gloves. Due to the special lenses in the VR headset and controllers, which have sensors, users can experience virtual content and interact with it naturally just like in the real world.
Some modern VR devices are more advanced than 3D. They have real-time tracking features that enable the use of VR in real-time explorations and allow users to experience their VR environment through all five human senses.
Examples of VR include entertainment applications, particularly video games, education applications such as classroom training, and business applications that are generally used for virtual meetings.
Mixed Reality (MR)
Mixed Reality (MR) sits somewhere between AR and VR, as it merges the real and virtual worlds. There are three key scenarios for this type of XR technology. The first is through a smartphone or AR wearable device with virtual objects and characters superimposed into real-world environments, or potentially vice versa.
In Mixed Reality (MR), digital and real objects coexist and can interact with each other in real time. MR is the latest immersive technology and is sometimes called hybrid reality. It requires an MR headset and much more processing power than VR or AR. Microsoft’s HoloLens is a great example of how you can place digital objects in the room you are standing in and have the ability to rotate them or interact with the digital object in any way you want.
Extended Reality (XR)
Extended Reality (XR) refers to all combined real and virtual environments and man-machine interactions, and is therefore, to be understood as the “reservoir” for representative forms such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) and the interpolated areas between them. While all three ‘realities’ share common overlapping features and requirements, each has different purposes and underlying technologies.
These are generated by computer technology and wearables. XR offers an experience for the senses. The line between reality and the simulated world becomes blurred as you dive into another world visually, acoustically or even haptically.