What’s the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?

Jun 9 by Nisar Haq

Today’s technological landscape is more advanced than ever before, and the ways in which we use technology for work and play are growing more innovative by the minute. One of the most exciting developments in recent years has been the entrance of augmented and virtual reality technologies into the mainstream market. Both are highly advanced and represent huge achievements in terms of creativity, imagination and technological skill, but what exactly is the difference between the two?

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality takes parts of the real world and parts of a simulated world to provide a part real, part simulated experience. Augmented reality users can interact with simulated or virtual content within their real world, and can easily distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. Examples of Augmented Reality experiences can be wide ranging, and they aim to enhance digital experiences by incorporating aspects of the real world, or enhance aspects of a simulated world by incorporating aspects of real life. A simple and low-key example of Augmented Reality technology is the buzz that can often be felt in a video game controller when the controlled character falls or crashes into something. A more advanced example is goggles that allow you to see your surroundings with simulated, computer generated content layered over the top – is that chair really there?

Virtual Reality

Whereas Augmented Reality involves parts of the real world and aspects of simulation, a virtual reality experience is completely, 100% simulated. Virtual Reality is about immersion in a computerised recreation of real life or imagined environments. Virtual Reality is usually experienced by wearing a headset that incorporates technology to make users feel like they’re experiencing their simulated experiences first hand. Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) is what makes Virtual Reality possible, by creating patterns and series of images and specifying the actions and interactions possible for them.

Uses and prospects

In terms of commercial markets, Augmented Reality technology is shaping up to have a bigger impact than its Virtual counterpart. Aspects of augmented reality have already been incorporated into apps and mobile devices to mesh digital components with real life; we see it used to display score overlays in broadcast sport games (as well as the famous ‘World Record Line’ we see during the Olympics) and any time holograms are used it causes quite a stir!

Virtual Reality has made less of an impact on commercial markets, but is already used in sector specific settings, largely for training purposes. For example, pilots already complete large parts of their training in flight simulators, and Virtual Reality devices have been used to imitate battle conditions amongst defence personnel. Some have even suggested that advances in Virtual reality technology will make remote surgeries possible!

When it comes down to it, Augmented Reality enhances what’s already there, and Virtual Reality provides a whole new world. Whether your prefer your reality virtual or augmented, one thing’s for sure: both schools of technology are set to rise very quickly, very soon!