Making the Most of Augmented & Virtual Reality

Cindy Baker

Kaitlin de Chastelain Finnigan

Jan 7, 2020 · 9 min read

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are emerging into many aspects of digital interaction. These technologies remove a barrier for humans to interact with digital objects. Normally when you want to pick up something you don’t even think about, you simply move your hand and grab it. You don’t need to remember a specific command, execute it and then watch the action take place, you just do it. Virtual and augmented reality allow us to accomplish such things. These technologies remove the keyboard and screen allowing humans to use our perception and natural instincts to intuitively interact with the digital space.

With these advancements, people and companies alike have the opportunity to solve new problems and improve user experience. You may know you need VR or AR, but how do you choose? To answer this question we need to first explore what virtual and augmented reality offer.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality provides a fully immersive experience in a completely new environment. It primarily immerses a person’s visual and auditory senses. The user is completely transported to a new environment. All actions within that environment are customizable and fully controlled. The new environment is solely within the designers' control and any actions can be limited as necessary.

Common Uses

Entertainment

All interactions within the video games need to happen within a specific set of rules, VR offers an environment for players to be fully immersed in the game and invested in the tasks they are supposed to complete. Beat Saber is an example of a game where the user dances and uses the peripheral controllers to hit moves on specific beats of music. VR works well because it transports the user onto the stage where their focus is only on the dance moves. They can perform different dance moves on the stage, but the stage itself is static.

Simulation Training

VR is exceptionally good at training muscle memory as it allows you to create an exact replica of a space to practice specific natural motions. Take as an example, a pilot in training needs to have a set of movements they must memorize in order to land a plane. A virtual environment allows them to practice the exact motions with no repercussions of actually crashing a plane. This works well because the environment is completely controlled and static each time. It’s all about placing the individual in that particular scenario.

Education

VR allows users to transport themselves to different places they can’t actually be. This opens up opportunities in education, for example: in order to see architectural styles of demolished historical sites, 3D models of the buildings could be generated and students can tour the site to view them as if they were actually there. #NEWPALMYRA is an example of this exact case, modeling previously destroyed or damaged buildings for people to view.

The goal with virtual reality is to completely replace the previous world of the user with this new one. For training, entertainment, or education the complete immersion is incredibly effective.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) allows us to bend and manipulate the current environment a user is in order to enhance their experience of the real world. It allows us to bring in elements from another place directly to the user. Rather than complete immersion, AR enhances the perception of the real world. Partial immersion is the heart of augmented reality because it’s not complete immersion, it also allows for more collaboration between individuals.

Common Uses

Design and Modelling

When designing structures or construction projects AR allows professionals to view their plans during the design process. By bringing the structure out of a screen in a two-dimensional plane to the actual world where you can see how something will actually look and how you as a human will interact with it. Questions arise that wouldn’t normally come up with something in 2D space, such as:

  1. Can I actually reach this thing?

  2. Is this doorway too small?

  3. Is there something that doesn’t seem right?

Tools like these allow us to see if what looks good on the screen actually translates well into reality.

Retail

There is a tremendous opportunity in using AR to improve the retail experience of consumers. Because AR allows for the overlay of new objects in the real world we can change things in real-time. For instance, if a company provides a product in a variety of colours but only has one colour in stock, using an AR application customers can view that product in different colours right away. No longer guessing what it may look like, it’s actually there in front of them. This is applicable in everything from cars to clothes. See what something looks like in real life without it actually being there.

Harley Davidson Motorcycle AR Model
Harley Davidson Motorcycle AR Model

Business Efficiency

The less time a task takes increases efficiency, which can make all the difference in supply chain management, where the more things that are able to progress through the chain the better. The time it takes to physically take a box off the shelf and scan it to see where it needs to go can be drastically reduced with AR technology that overlays package details, like ship date and location, right onto the box when a user looks at it. There’s much less time wasted and efficiency improves drastically. Another use would be a map where the path was instead right in front of you and you simply follow it to the destination. As opposed to traditional maps where the user must orient themselves. This not only saves time and frustration but more things are also accomplished.

The goal of augmented reality is to bring something that is not usually present into being to enhance the users' world.

Virtual Reality allows users to step into an environment completely new to their own and provides interactions within that new space.

Augmented Reality brings foreign objects into the users' world for them to interact with and compare with things in real life.

Choosing AR or VR

Analyzing what kind of things you want to do is key in choosing what type of solution you need. To get started, ask yourself these questions about your problem:

Do I need real-life comparison?

If the answer is yes, you’re likely to lean more towards augmented reality than virtual. The human brain is easily able to compare things with an environment it already knows because there is an inherent sense of scale. Working with an AR company can help you achieve the proper results.

Do I need a lot of collaboration?

It’s much easier to communicate with others when you can see them in real life when in VR there is an element of isolation as the only interaction with others would be if they are simulated with you. If communication and collaboration are key then augmented reality may be a fit.

Is the environment I need static?

If the environment you’re working in doesn’t change, virtual reality applications are ideal for your project. Because of the complete immersion with VR, controlling the environment and the subsequent actions you can perform in it is limited to what you want it to be. With the added control there are more customizable actions you can create.

Do you want it to come to you or do you want to go to it?

The main difference between VR and AR is the environment you’re interacting with. If you need to transport somewhere else or put yourself in a new space, then virtual reality is likely what you need. On the flip side, if your environment will impact how the elements brought in will behave or can change your interpretation of the object, using augmented reality will provide a better experience for users.

VizworX is a custom software development company based in Calgary, Alberta. We leverage our experience in artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality applications, and data visualizations to create powerful enterprise solutions.

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