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Virtual and Augmented Reality: Sci-Fi is Here

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality are two technologies that promise to change our world in very real ways in the very near future.  The two technologies are related, but are different – and they are often confused with one another.  AR and VR have one big thing in common: they both have the remarkable ability to alter our perception of the world. Where they differ is our perceptions of their presence.

 VR is able to transport users into a totally immersive, multi-media experience. Through closed visors or goggles, VR blocks out the room and places us elsewhere – on the moon, in Paris, underwater. The market leader, Oculus Rift, just released their consumer ready headset of 2016. VR’s immersive, computer-simulated reality is extremely lifelike, with sensory experiences that include sight, touch, hearing, and even smell. 

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AR does not move us elsewhere, it simply "augments" our current state with amazingly lifelike holograms that are viewed through head-mounted computers. Microsoft’s new HoloLens is an example of AR technology; it takes the power of 3-D modeling and brings it into the real world, blending our digital lives with our real lives, removing screens from our interactions with technology.

 While VR is more immersive, AR provides more freedom for the user. One blogger described the differences:  Think scuba diving vs. going to the aquarium.  With virtual reality, you can swim with sharks. And with augmented reality, you can watch a shark swim off of your business card.[1]

 Experts say both of these technologies will be part of our every day lives in the very near future. Their applications are as endless as our imaginations.  Until now, the gaming industry has had the most traction in the VR and AR field commercially.  But more high-minded uses are being developed for exploring outer space, advancing the fields of medicine, research, arts, architecture, communication, education and more.  In no time, marketers will be jumping in to contrive interactive ways to advertise and connect us (and potentially annoy us!) with products before, during and after making a purchase. 

New Technology = New Opportunities for STEM Students

 There is already a need for developers to create bold new applications for VR and AR technologies. Microsoft dedicates a section of its HoloLens website to app designers, urging them to let their creativity soar and find new uses for the platforms.  And this gap will become monumental as the technology catches on with the general public. There is a need for good content and for trained computer scientists who can develop new applications in both AR and VR.  We are poised at a moment in time, similar to that of the late 20th century when the Internet was being created. This new frontier signals great opportunity for STEM students who are tech-savvy and eager to learn.

Cool places that teach about life in the virtual world:

PBS    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/resources/virtuallearning/

Media Education Lab  http://mediaeducationlab.com/digital-workshops-digital-nation




[1] http://cramer.com/story/the-difference-between-ar-and-vr/





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posted Dec 11, 2009, 11:12 AM by Laurie Trotta   [ updated Jun 23, 2010, 11:10 AM ]




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