April 29, 2016
The most exciting technology being developed today is arguably virtual reality (VR), and the Oculus Rift, acquired by Facebook in 2014, isn’t lacking in hype. Oculus Rift technology even made our Top Tech Gifts of 2015. Now, it’s finally being released on a wider scale. BusinessInsider.com speculated that virtual reality is set to explode in 2016 and expects VR headsets to generate nearly $900 Million in 2016.
Yet, other technologists think that our sights are on the wrong target. Digi-Capital, a virtual and augmented reality consultancy agency, predicts that by the year 2020, augmented reality (AR) will generate some $90 Billion more than its virtual cousin.
That projection assumes a certain rate of growth and development, and clearly, the technology isn’t quite there yet. So what is the difference between augmented reality vs. virtual reality? Below, we’ll take a snap shot of the AR and VR market today and outline some of the most anticipated headsets and startups.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
The differences between augmented reality vs. virtual reality are subtle, and as each technology advances, the lines will continue to blur. The definitions of both realities are going to morph and change with the times, but, this is how we define them now.
Augmented Reality: a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.
Virtual Reality: the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real of physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.
To put the two technologies in perspective, we’ll use an equivalent scenario. Imagine you are driving in a car on an open country road to head towards the grocery store. An augmented reality headset would display information such as the weather, the route you are supposed to be taking, upcoming traffic considerations, and more. This information would reside in your field of vision, but as the driver you can look past this data and see the real, physical road that you are driving on.
All this same information may be displayed in a virtual reality headset as well, and with further refinement of the technology, you will be able to feel the sun on your face or the wind in your hair. The difference is that the road, the car, the open country, and the rest will all be digitally constructed. In reality, you will be safely at home in a comfortable, stationary setting.
The AR and VR Industry at a Glance
When you break the AR and VR industry down, you find three leading developers who are owned, funded by, or otherwise affiliated with three of the largest names in technology.
- Oculus Rift: Facebook made a bold move to venture their interests outside of the social media space when the purchased Oculus Rift for $2 Billion. It is by far the leading full VR headset, and with so much anticipation and name-recognition surrounding the product, it is hard to image another competitor outpacing it in the VR Market.The Oculus is constructed with a 1080p OLED screen that is fitted on a headset that completely covers the eyes. Combined with integrated 360° audio headphones it can create the illusion of occupying a completely virtual world.
- Magic Leap: In May 2014, Google released the Google Glass, an augmented reality headset resembling a pair of spectacles, to unfavorable reviews. They have now since stopped production of the prototype and invested in a small startup outside of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida called Magic Leap. Magic Leap’s augmented reality headsets are still in development, but a recent article from Wired.com described the experience of seeing a virtual drone hovering in the Magic Leap offices as if it were really there.
“It looks as real as the lamps and computer monitors around it. It’s not. I’m seeing all this through a synthetic-reality headset. Intellectually, I know this drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned it’s really there, in that ordinary office. It is a virtual object, but there is no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness.”
— Kevin Kelly
Senior Maverick for Wired.com
- HoloLens: Determined not to miss the opportunity for a $120 Billion market, Microsoft developed HoloLens, an augmented reality headset to compete with Magic Leap. HoloLens is really a self-contained Windows 10 computer housed within cordless glasses and compatible with select Windows Apps. The list of capabilities is always expanding, but some apps formatted to work on the Hololens include:
- HoloStudio: A 3D modeling application
- Actiongram: A messenger application for recording short video messages with AR elements included
- Skype: A modified version of the popular telepresence application
- HoloTour: A video tourism application
- Fragment: A crime-thriller adventure game
- Young Conker: A game featuring the Conker the Squirrel character
- Robo Raid: An AR first-person shooter game
Beyond these examples are other announced and rumored applications still in development.
Why Will Augmented Reality Overtake Virtual Reality?
The simple answer is diversity in its use. While virtual reality can provide and amazing educational experience or journey to another world, augmented reality can do all that and enhance the world we actually live in. The feature applications for HoloLens prove the point. While Oculus Rift has virtual tourism and gaming capabilities, so does the HoloLens. HoloLens builds upon those capabilities with messenger applications, Skype, and other tools we commonly use on our smartphones.
Yes, virtual reality promises to be an awe-inspiring experience, but augmented reality has the potential to be a much more useful device.
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