The concept of a virtual reality has been around for almost 50 years, but the idea didn’t hit the mainstream until the most recent decade. The Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, was the first glimpse into accessible VR when the prototype was created in 2010 by Palmer Luckey. Early 2016 the consumer version was released allowing people at home to immerse themselves into a fully artificial digital world. Now there are over 230 companies involved in VR development and many different headsets on offer. As well as for gaming, the VR headsets have many different uses such as in medicine which I talked about in a previous blog.
Today everyone is clear about what Virtual Reality is however there are many buzz words flying around that we are not so clear on. Mixed reality, augmented reality, augmented virtuality are all terms that people are hearing lately but the definitions for each are quite confusing. So, let’s try and break it down.
Augmented Reality (AR) refers to when you view the real-world environment you are in but have virtual objects overlaid. Augmented reality can be used from your smartphone in apps such as snapchat whilst using the filters or games such as Pokemon Go, as well as with headsets such as Google Glass.
Augmented Virtuality (AV) refers to the merging of real-world objects into virtual worlds. For example you may be able to see your hands or another person in the visual frame of the virtual world or a real world element can be virtually enhanced and interacted with for example an aircraft engineer visualizing a real time model of an engine in flight, through a virtual reality lens.
Mixed reality (MR) is a term that can have quite a few definitions. It is often used interchangeably with the terms above, and it is also used to refer to the continuum between the real environment and the fully virtual one. However, when people refer to mixed reality, they are usually referring to a more advanced version of augmented reality where virtual objects are not just overlaid into the real environment but are interactable. The ability to view the real environment around you whilst inserting different digitally enhanced objects that you can move and interact with, has many different applicable uses that make it a great tool in modern day technology.
Microsoft HoloLens is the first ‘self-contained, holographic computer’ is the flagship device for the mixed reality experience. It advertises itself as a blended environment where you can bring objects from the physical and digital world together. By placing interactable holograms into your real environment you can engage with the digital world while still having full control of your senses and environment. It has many different creative uses such as visualizing room layouts or solving technical problems. There are currently up to 20 applications for use developed by Microsoft and 3rd parties including the following:
- HoloStudio — full-scale 3D modelling app that is compatible with 3D printing
- Hologram — a catalogue of 3D objects that can be placed in the user’s environment
- Skype — using the telecommunications app through HoloLens
3rd Party Apps
- Holoanatomy — an interactive digital human anatomy
- Holoflight — an app to visualise real world flat data through a visualised flight space
- Galaxy explorer — allows you to transform your room into a galaxy
The current retail price for the HoloLens is £2719 for the development edition and £4529 for the Commercial Suite. The commercial suite, allows business application of the HoloLens. It includes all the hardware of the development edition with added security in the form of encryption, virtual private networks and extra device management capabilities.
Virtual Reality entered the world in the form of clunky headsets mainly used for an enhanced gaming experience, though they didn’t really take the world by storm as expected. However, this new advancement in the mixed reality realm has more practical, real world applications which may prove a better technological endeavour.